Expert Health Articles

RSV Guidance: Please Don't Kiss the Baby

It’s always a joyful moment when a new baby is born. Everyone in the family wants to come meet the new addition. A few days later, this precious little baby is struggling to breathe and needs to be in the ICU with RSV bronchiolitis.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is generally a virus present in the winter, usually at its worst in January and February each year. This year, RSV and influenza were conspicuously absent in the winter months. There are likely multiple reasons for this, but the bottom line is that RSV is here now.

RSV is a respiratory virus that causes up to 240,000 deaths in children under the age of five worldwide each year, with babies under six months being most affected. In the United States, 0.5-1.7% of healthy children who become sick with RSV will die. The odds are worse for babies born premature, or if they have lung or heart disease, weakened immune systems due to cancer or immunodeficiency, or developmental delay.

RSV generally looks like a common cold or allergies in healthy adults. Why is it so much worse in babies? Their immune systems are not fully developed, and they have never been exposed to this virus so they are not able to mount a quick immune response to exposure to RSV. Also, their lungs are much smaller so any inflammation to their airways is exponentially worse when the baby is smaller.

RSV is spread through contact with contaminated respiratory droplets. Kissing, sharing drinks, or transferring things from mouth to mouth can transmit RSV. Washing your hands, covering your coughs and sneezes, and avoiding contact when you are sick will decrease the spread and help protect our littlest family members.

New parents frequently feel pressure to allow family members to visit, however, what might “just be allergies” for an adult can make babies sick enough to be in the ICU. So, please. If you don’t live in the same house as the baby, don’t kiss them.

Brittany Grider, MD
Pediatric Hospitalist
Pediatric Hospitalists of Northwest Ohio