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‘Tis the season for RSV

‘Tis the season for RSV

There’s no doubt about it: autumn marks more than just a new school year – it also means the beginning of the autumn cold and flu season. The month isn’t even half over and we’re already seeing lots of patients with cold symptoms, not to mention all the tweets and Facebook comments that pop up every time someone gets blind-sided by the sniffles.

But colds and flu aren’t the only seasonal illnesses that thrive at this time of year. As we ease our way into autumn we also get closer and closer to RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) season and for some kids, it’s a big problem.

Coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and fever are the hallmarks of the virus, which can make it hard to distinguish RSV from a common cold or flu. In fact, the virus spreads and is generally treated in much the same way too. If the infection manages to get deeper into the lungs, symptoms can get worse and may include difficulty breathing with deeper, more persistent coughing, blue fingernails and/or lips, dehydration and difficulty breast- or bottle-feeding.

Still, there are some children that are considered at-risk for much more serious complications when it comes to RSV. For these babies, RSV can mean a lot more than just your regular coughing and sneezing – it could potentially mean time spent in the hospital. The bad chest infection caused by RSV can lead to pneumonia or bronchiolitis.

Children that are considered at higher risk for RSV include:

  • Premature babies: Some infants who have been born earlier than 36 weeks of pregnancy, and all infants born earlier than 33 weeks, who are also less than 6 months old at the start of RSV season (fall to spring) are considered at-risk.
  • Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) or other chronic lung conditions: These children were often born premature (see above), but this group also includes children from birth to two years old with some congenital lung conditions. These children all usually needed oxygen at home within the six months preceding the RSV season.
  • Congenital heart disease (CHD): Some children are born with congenital heart diseases that affect their oxygen levels, or require medications to maintain healthy heart function. These infants and toddlers also fall in the high risk group.
  • Down Syndrome/Trisomy 21: Infants and toddlers with Down Syndrome are considered at higher risk for RSV in the first two years of life.

While there is no way to prevent RSV, in Ontario the Ministry of Health provides palivizumab, a medicine made up of passive antibodies that help fight the virus, for at-risk infants who qualify. We administer the medication once a month for the duration of the RSV season to ensure that your at-risk baby is protected.

Whether your baby is at-risk or not, there are a few ways that you can help keep RSV out of your home during the season:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly before touching your baby and have others do the same.
  • Keep anyone exhibiting cold or flu symptoms away from your baby.
  • Avoid taking your baby into crowded spaces.
  • Do not allow anyone to smoke in your home.
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