Although premature infants are at increased risk of hospitalization due to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), nearly one half of parents of premature infants are not aware of preventive medicine that can help protect their babies from RSV, according to a recent Internet survey from the National Perinatal Association (NPA). With premature births at a record high of one in eight births each year, theres an urgent need to close this information gap especially now that RSV season is well underway. RSV infection occurs most often from late fall to early spring. Most illness occurs between November and April, although there may be seasonal variation in different regions of the country.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that RSV is the leading cause of infant hospitalization and that the rate increased 25 percent between 1997 and 2002. The early symptoms of RSV are often similar to those of a cold or influenza, but the consequences of RSV infection may be more serious for premature infants, who are at greater risk of developing severe bronchiolitis or pneumonia and being hospitalized.5 Each year 125,000 hospitalizations occur in young children due to RSV-related bronchiolitis or lower respiratory tract infection, and one to two percent of these infants die.
We need to do more to educate parents about how they can reduce their babies risk for becoming victims of this virus, which lands far too many infants in the hospital, said NPA president Albert L. Pizzica, DO, FAAP.
Ninety percent of parents whose babies have been hospitalized with RSV say that parents need better information about RSV prevention. Speaking from their own experience, almost 58 percent of these parents said they did not know about medication that could have helped prevent their childs hospitalization.
The NPA survey also shed light on how the arrival of a premature child can affect a familys daily life. Seven out of 10 parents surveyed spent more time at home in the months following their babys birth, and more than half socialized with friends less often. More than a quarter quit work, possibly putting a strain on the familys finances.
Families face emotional strain, too; and they worry about the possibility that their premature child will face long-term health problems: Nearly half of the parents surveyed, including more than 60 percent of those whose babies were born at 31 weeks gestation or less, say they are concerned about these potential health problems.
Helping to prevent premature babies from being hospitalized with RSV does more than just protect their health, says Pizzica. It also keeps the emotional and financial stresses on their parents from increasing.
Preventing infection is the best way to help protect all babies from the potentially dangerous effects of RSV. On their own, parents can help decrease their babys exposure to respiratory viruses by taking the following steps:
Always wash their hands before holding their child, and insist that others do, too
Wash their babys toys, clothes, play areas and bedding often
Do not share personal items (pacifiers, cups, forks, spoons, towels, washcloths)
Keep their baby away from anyone with a cold or influenza, and avoid crowded areas and day care during RSV season
Never let anyone smoke around the baby
Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, March of Dimes