How to Protect Your Baby from RSV
This fall, our infant community, (babies less than 1 year of age) has been hit hard by RSV; Respiratory Syncytial Virus, which has been causing a record number of clinic/emergency room visits and hospitalizations. The virus causes upper and lower respiratory infections with symptoms that are worse than COVID-19 and typically last for more than 7 days.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, RSV epidemics had a predictable beginning in the United States starting in mid-fall, lasting through winter and early fall. During the pandemic, due to physical distancing, changes in child care, and mask usage, the typical season did not occur in fall 2020 or 2021. However, in fall 2022 there were some unusual surges in RSV infections and now in 2023, it has returned in epidemic proportions.
RSV reproduces itself in the cells that line airways and it disrupts those linings. Depending on which area is affected, symptoms can include runny nose and congestion, persistent cough with vomiting, cessation of breathing, fever, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, lethargy, and breathing difficulties with and without low oxygen levels. RSV can manifest as an upper respiratory infection, croup, ear infection, bronchiolitis, and pneumonia. Secondary bacterial infections can occur as well. Additionally, babies who have RSV early in life may be predisposed to higher rates of reactive airway disease (asthma), possibly affecting them for a lifetime.
Traditional preventative measures to protect against the spread of RSV include:
Limiting contact with sick individuals, especially during the newborn period
Synagis injection for a special group of high-risk infants
Recently, in July 2023, the FDA approved Beyfortus; an RSV shot containing ready-made antibodies to provide protection for at least 5 months. It is not a vaccine and does not stimulate the immune system. However, after getting an RSV shot, there may be temporary pain, redness, swelling where the injection was given, or a rash. As with any medicine, an allergic reaction can occur. This is a new and important preventative measure in the fight against RSV. The best recommendation is that infants born during the RSV season receive a single dose of the RSV shot as early as possible after birth. Most infants whose mothers get the RSV vaccine between 32 and 36 weeks of pregnancy, do not need to get the RSV shot as well. Please call us if you are interested in hearing more about the RSV shot or getting it for your baby.
Charlene Blache, MD