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Preemies and RSV: It’s more than just a cold

Annisa Ihsani
Annisa Ihsani

Writer, book nerd, and mother of one.

Jakarta  /  Tue, May 3, 2016  /  04:03 pm
Preemies and RSV: It’s more than just a cold

Contrary to popular belief, you can't get a cold from being caught in the rain any more than you can get it from a shower or a bath. (Shutterstock/*)

Most of the time, I try not to let my daughter's prematurity define her. I let her play in the rain. I do not insist on feeding her homemade food.
 
In fact, being a pro-GMO carb lover, I have a very loose definition of what is called healthy food.
 
That being said, whenever someone wants to hold my daughter or offers their hand for her to shake, my first instinct is to ask, "Have you washed your hands?"
 
Shopping mall playgrounds and paediatrician waiting room make me nervous. I dread family gatherings. Okay, partly because I'm an introvert who doesn't enjoy being around people so much. But partly because, in a room packed with people, there is always at least one kid with a runny nose.
 
Contrary to popular belief, you can't get a cold from being caught in the rain any more than you can get it from a shower or a bath. In order to catch a cold, you need bacteria or virus, which can spread easily through contact with infected people.
 
And that's why I worry so much about people touching my child.
 
I know that makes me sound like an overprotective helicopter parent. But chances are you'd be worried too if your child was hospitalized three times in two months with RSV infections. When you have a preemie, even a common cold is no joke.
 
What seems to some people as a simple cold is a nasty disease to others.
 
What is RSV?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a virus that causes infection in the respiratory tract. It is very common and highly contagious. It can spread from touching people with the virus, through the air from coughs or sneezes or from touching contaminated objects.
 
Basically all children under age 2 have been infected by this virus. Most of them experience symptoms no different than a common cold and require nothing more than home care.
 
For a small percentage, however, RSV can be serious, even deadly. Those at risk include premature babies, people with lung disease and those with compromised immune systems.
 
When to worry

My baby first had it when she was 7 months old. It started with symptoms like a common cold, so I wasn't worried.
 
Only when the symptoms worsened in the next couple of days did we go to see our paediatrician. It turned out my baby had bronchiolitis—inflammation in the lower respiratory tract—because of an RSV infection.
 
We learned that we should see the doctor if the symptoms include fast breathing, refusal to breastfeed, and signs of dehydration, for example no wet diapers or lack of tears when crying.
 
Treatment

Antibiotics are useless against virus infections, so we can only treat the symptoms.
 
My baby had low oxygen saturation from breathing problems, so they affixed an oxygen tube to help her breathe. They also put her on IV fluids since she was dehydrated from breastfeeding difficulties caused by mucus build-up. Inhalation therapy was used to help get rid of the mucus.
 
We bought a nebulizer soon after. Having it at home can really save you the hassle of having to go to the hospital for each inhalation session.
 
Prevention

One encounter with RSV was more than enough for me, but unfortunately it didn't end there. Just one week after she was out of the hospital, she started coughing again. The next day she was back at the hospital.
 
After the second hospitalization, the doctor said we should quarantine her, at least until she was one year old. It wasn't doable, however, since I had to go to my parents' house for my mother's funeral. It was during cold season and there were lots of visitors. And in next to no time, oh hey, RSV, it's you again. Third bronchiolitis in two months.
 
It could be years before there is a vaccine for this virus. These are basic things you can do to prevent it from spreading:

- Always wash your hands before touching your baby.
- Sanitize doorknobs, surfaces, and toys.
- Don't let anyone smoke in the house or near your baby.
- Avoid crowded places during cold season and people with cold symptoms (if they don't already have the decency to stay at home).

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Annisa Ihsani is a writer, book nerd, and mother of one. She is the author of middle-grade novel "Teka-Teki Terakhir" ( Gramedia Pustaka Utama, 2014 ).

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