Q&A: How can I protect my premature baby from RSV?
My son was born at 33 weeks gestation and has been in the hospital for three weeks. He is almost ready to come home and I am worried that he will get RSV infection and have to go back in the hospital. The doctor said that he did not qualify for the special shot that protects babies from RSV.
Let me first congratulate you on the birth of your son and making it to the point where you all are about to get to head home together! Regarding your concerns about RSV, let me first explain a bit about what RSV is, and then about what the updated recommendations are for the “special shot” you are referring to (also known as Palivizumab).
RSV is short for respiratory synctial virus, and the reason that just about every parent has heard of RSV is because it is very, very contagious—infecting most children by the age of 1 and just about all kids by the age of 2. While RSV typically causes such common symptoms (in both children and adults) as a clear runny nose and a fever, it is also the most common cause of lower respiratory tract infections in children—especially infants born prematurely or who have underdeveloped lungs.
Unfortunately, there is not yet a safe, effective vaccine against RSV, nor is there an antiviral medication effective in treating RSV infection. That means that our best medical defense against RSV is the “special” (and very expensive) shot, Palivizumab, which was approved by the FDA in 1998 for preventing serious RSV lower respiratory disease in children deemed at high risk. In July, 2009, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its recommendations regarding which infants are deemed at highest risk. Since not all infants born between 32 and 35 weeks and qualify for monthly Palivizumab shots, and there are several criteria that need to be considered, it is important that you and all parents of premature infants discuss these latest recommendations with your doctor.
In the meantime, while concern about returning to the hospital is entirely understandable and warranted—especially during RSV season (which typically spans from November/December to March/April, with a peak in January/February), there are measures you can take aside from the shot that can help protect your baby. The AAP recommends that if you are a parent of a high-risk child, you should follow these steps to help your baby stay free of RSV:
- Always wash your hands with warm water and soap just before holding your baby, and make certain that relatives and other caregivers do the same.
- Minimize contact with your baby if you have a cold or a fever.
- Try to keep older brothers and sisters away from the baby as much as possible, especially if they have a runny nose, cold, or fever.
- Do not take Baby out to crowded areas such as shopping centers.
- Do not smoke around Baby.