Flu-like viruses affect babies at epidemic level

Doctors warn parents about Respiratory Syncytial Virus

By Rachel McNeill - Anchor

HOUSTON - Pediatricians across Houston have been warning parents for weeks that Respiratory Syncytial Virus is at epidemic levels in Texas.

Doctors say RSV is very common, highly contagious and can even be fatal in the youngest of patients.

"It's actually been a pretty significant year," said Dr. Stephen Welty, Chief of Neonatology at Texas Children's Hospital.

Welty said the cases are worse for younger children.

Baby Jayden was only 5-months-old when he was admitted to TCH for RSV coupled with a slight case of pneumonia.

"He coughs so much that he will start to turn purple from lack of oxygen, and by the time he is done coughing, he is gasping for air," said Brianna Villasan, Jayden's mother.

RSV season peaks at the same time as cold and flu, but Welty said the difference is RSV affects the lower respiratory tract.

"That means instead of up in the nose and the mouth, it's down in the airways and when the airways are inflamed and swollen, it's tough to get air to pass and go both ways. So it can actually act like they kind of have asthma. They breathe hard," said Welty.

Other symptoms of severe RSV include:

  • Fatigue
  • High fever
  • Bluish color on lips or fingernails
  • Difficulty feeding or decreased fluid intake

Those most at risk are children who are in daycare, have school-aged siblings or live in crowded conditions.

RSV is spread by coughs, sneezes and even touching common surfaces.

Frequent hand washing and disinfecting surfaces can help.

"One big thing is, don't smoke. Don't have your babies around people that smoke," said Welty.

Welty expects cases of RSV to taper off by the end of March.

Copyright 2013 by Click2Houston.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.