Health & Fitness

Respiratory virus active in area hits babies hard

Though Wichita has largely escaped the usual winter viruses, one that can make it difficult for babies to breathe is moving through the area now.

It's called respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and in most older children and adults it produces cold symptoms.

But babies, especially those under a year old, aren't able to clear mucus from their noses and throats, so it can create breathing problems that can lead to dehydration and lung infections.

Only a smattering of other winter viruses are causing problems, with physicians and school nurses reporting some upper respiratory infections and "stomach flu."

Influenza, usually a big problem this time of year, has been nearly absent in Wichita and nationwide since H1N1 influenza hit hard in the fall.

RSV makes the rounds every winter; two years ago, it hit Wichita hard.

Pediatricians and hospitals say they're seeing more babies with RSV now than a few weeks ago, but they don't know whether this season will be a bad one.

Some similar respiratory viruses also are creating problems for babies, the hospitals said.

Not every baby with cold symptoms needs medical attention. But parents who notice that their babies are breathing harder, not eating or drinking as much as usual, or producing fewer wet diapers than usual should seek medical attention, said Debbie Fox and Diana Mark, respiratory therapists at Wesley Medical Center.

They said they've seen an influx of babies at their outpatient bronchiolitis clinic. Bronchiolitis is swelling and mucus buildup in the lungs. At the clinic, on a physician's order, they can perform deep suctioning to clear a baby's throat and lungs. The therapy may keep the baby from being hospitalized.

Anita Mills, of Via Christi Regional Medical Center's pediatrics intensive care unit, said sick babies may need supportive care, oxygen and antibiotics if they've developed pneumonia or bronchiolitis, and breathing treatments.

But "a lot of them are managed very well at home, and they're probably better off at home," she said, so that they don't expose others to the virus and aren't exposed to other viruses.

RSV is spread the same way as other cold viruses — when an infected person coughs or sneezes into the air. Its spread can be prevented with the same measures that prevent other colds: washing hands frequently, covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding shared cups and eating utensils, and refraining from kissing others.