As we “spring forward” and cold and flu season comes to a close, many parents celebrate because their child will finally get some reprieve from the constant sniffles and sneezes (s)he hasn’t been able to shake. Others, like myself, breathe a sigh of relief that their child made it through the season without catching one of the many viruses that have been “going around.” Spring brings a little more sunshine, and a little less Kleenex.
When it comes to their kids, most parents can recognize the symptoms that accompany an impending cold, or the flu, but there is another winter virus that parents may not know much about. RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is a winter virus that often presents like the common cold (fever, runny nose, cough, fatigue) but for high-risk infants, can be very dangerous, and is one of the leading causes of infant hospitalization in the United States.
All babies have some risk of complications from RSV, but those born prematurely (like my daughter), and those who have chronic lung disease or congenital heart disease are at an increased risk of developing a severe RSV infection. To top it off, RSV is extremely contagious. It is easily spread by touching, sneezing, or coughing, and can live on surfaces and objects (toys, door handles) for hours.
There is no cure for RSV, but for parents of high-risk babies like myself – there is help. Palivizumab (or known by its brand name “Synagis”) is a monthly injection of antibodies, given during RSV season, which protects high-risk babies from developing severe RSV. While most vaccines offer “active immunity” — meaning that they activate the immune system into producing its own antibodies — this injection is a type of “passive immunity.” The injections contain the antibodies needed to provide some temporary protection during a time when children can be at their most vulnerable. While the injected antibodies can’t fully protect infants from getting infected, they can keep RSV from turning into something more serious. Because each injection offers protection for 28 to 30 days, most pediatricians recommend high-risk babies receive a palivizumab injection once a month from October through March to help them through the worst of RSV season.
My daughter received her first palivizumab shot in the NICU in October, and received her last one this month. I am happy to report (while knocking on wood) that my family has survived “bringing a preemie home during RSV season.” As I breathe a sigh of relief — thanks, in part, to those antibodies! — I also want to spread the word about how dangerous RSV can become, and educate parents about prevention and protection. Read more about how you can help stop the spread of RSV here.