RSV season under way
In a way Amanda Geopfert was lucky. Her son did not have to be hospitalized.
Still, when her only baby, Liam Goodner, caught respiratory syncytial virus at just 4 1/2 months, it was an ordeal.
“It feels awful. He’s so young, he doesn’t understand what’s wrong with him, and you can’t really do anything for him,” Geopfert said. “The only thing you can do is hold him and comfort him, otherwise there’s nothing the doctors can do other than that breathing treatment.”
RSV is actually a fairly common disease this time of year, said Dr. Richard Votta at Trimark Physicians Group.
“It’s like a webbing that forms over the little breathing tubes, the bronchials, they’re called,” Votta said. “It comes around every year. Some years are worse than others.”
This year, they’ve seen quite a bit.
“We’ve had our fair amount of influenza, but we’ve had more RSV than influenza this year,” he said. “The pediatric unit at Trinity Regional, there was one week I think we had seven or eight kids in the hospital, and six of them were RSV.”
People of any age can catch RSV, but it’s generally not much different from a cold when you’re older.
“But babies a year and younger, and even more those six months and younger can really have a hard time. They have a lot of difficulty breathing,” Votta said. “It’s really quite uncomfortable.”
Symptoms include coughing and sneezing, runny nose, fever, and decreased appetite, according to the Webster County Health Department. There can also be wheezing and breathing difficulties.
For Geopfert, there was also vomiting.
“It started as a cough that was just awful. It sounded like a smoker’s cough,” Geopfert said. “He couldn’t catch his breath. It was so bad that he couldn’t keep any fluid down because it would come right back up.”
Geopfert took Liam to the hospital when his temperature got up to 102.3 degrees. There, the baby tested positive for RSV.
“At four months, for him to go into the X-ray room like that – I couldn’t go in there with him. It was awful,” she said. “They had to stick him in a machine, and he didn’t like it one bit. And then to draw blood from a little 4-month-old, his veins are so small.”
The doctor told Geopfert the X-ray looked good, and Liam was not hospitalized. He was given medicine at home.
Votta said severity of the disease varies. Some kids can be sent home, while others are kept in the hospital and put on oxygen.
“We’ve had children we ended up sending to Blank (Children’s Hospital in Des Moines), and put on ventilators, and put them in the Pediatric ICU. We’ve had some pretty sick kids,” he said.
“There’s not really a treatment for RSV,” he added. “Right now it’s mainly support. We make sure they have plenty of fluids, plenty of oxygen, and we do nebulizer treatments to help their airways open up.”
Antibiotics won’t work since it is a virus, and there is no inoculation like the flu shot. For premature babies and others at high risk, a drug is given to prevent the disease, but it isn’t widely used, Votta said.
“RSV unfortunately is very contagious,” he said. “So we get kids in the day care, they may have a mild cold and do some coughing, next thing they know they get tested positive for RSV. Now all the kids in the day care have been exposed.”
The best thing to do is keep kids home from school or day care when they are sick, said Dr. Janet Secor, at Fort Dodge Community Health.
“That’s an issue right now because a lot of workplaces will not let you stay home with sick kids,” Secor said.
Still, “The main thing is, if parents are trying to prevent it, take kids home when they are sick. Don’t smoke, make sure kids get adequate fluids, and make sure the parents themselves are handling snotty noses appropriately, washing their hands after they help the kid blow his nose.”
“Handwashing is going to be the best preventive,” Votta said.
While Liam didn’t get the worst of it, Geopfert said he’s still working through the bug.
“It took about a week, a week and a half to get better, but he’s not fully better,” she said. “He still has the cough. I’m not sure if he’s getting a cold or if it’s still the symptoms of RSV.
“It kind of just makes me want to lock him away inside and not expose him, because it can be deadly.”