‘My baby is fighting for his life’: Here’s what parents need to know about RSV as cases continue to rise nationwide

Inside the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Texas Children’s Hospital, the sounds of infants coughing can be heard down the hallways.

Infants and toddlers (mostly under 3 years old) are struggling to breathe due to Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV.

Father Javier Benitez said he’d heard of the virus but now that his seven-week-old newborn is sick with it, he’s worried they’re in real danger.

Angelyn Smith Wick, was transferred here from Beaumont with her one-year-old on Saturday.

“He was an active little boy and all of a sudden, he just went downhill fast. So, I just want to warn parents, this is - this is not a joke!” she cried. “My baby is fighting for his life right now!”

Texas Children’s Hospital Pathologist in Chief Dr. James Versalovic said they’re at the mercy of treating symptoms since there is no cure for RSV.

“We’ve had two RSV waves in 2022. This is so highly unusual. The challenge is it’s been so highly unpredictable,” Dr. Versalovic said. “More than a third of the patients hospitalized with RSV are being admitted to our pediatric intensive care units.”

The good news is there are vaccines under investigation to protect pregnant mothers and older adults. Dr. Bonnie Colville with DM Clinical in Bellaire is the principal investigator.

“I can’t say a specific timeline but I do know we’re hopefully in the final stretches of getting approval for an RSV vaccine,” Colville said.

For now, it’s important that parents are in touch with their pediatrician if a child has a fever or cough.

“Prompt diagnosis through testing remains so important so that we can effectively treat children and care for them and also prevent infections when we can,” Dr. Versalovic added.

According to epidemiologist, Katelyn Jetelina, RSV is common, and someone can get the infection more than once in a season.

How is RSV transmitted?

  • Respiratory droplets: droplets from coughs and sneezes that contain the virus, but can fall to the ground after a couple feet of travel.
  • Fomites: viral particles that can survive many hours on hard surfaces such as crib rails and toys.

Who is at risk?

  • Young children. 5 out of 1000 children under 5 years of age will be hospitalized. This is a higher rate than for flu or COVID-19. The younger the child, the more likely hospitalization is. This is because their airways are just so tiny and can’t let air flow through when inflamed. When a child is hospitalized, the average hospitalization stay is 5 days and ~7% require ICU admission. Among those hospitalized, most children were previously healthy. Before the pandemic, RSV killed 100 to 500 U.S. children under age 5 each year. Older adults. Each year, between 60,000 to 120,000 older adults in the United States are hospitalized, and 6,000 to 10,000 of them die due to RSV infection. Just like COVID-19, RSV is rough on older adults because their immune systems are weaker and they are more likely to have underlying health conditions, like heart or lung disease.