Cases rise of virus that strikes many infants hard

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Flu cases are trending down now.  Children's Mercy Hospital reports cases of another virus, the respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, are rising.

Easton Vanderberg's parents saw the signs in their two-year-old.

"Lots of increased work of breathing; kind of respiratory distress. You can see it," said Erin Ford, Easton's mother.

RSV landed Easton in Children's Mercy.  His parents knew he was at high risk for it because he was born very premature and has chronic lung disease.  But healthy little ones get RSV, too.

"Virtually one hundred percent of children become infected in the first year of life," said Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, an infectious disease specialist. "Some of them will get a simple cold.  Some of them will get the entity we call bronchiolitis which is the wheezing baby with copious secretions and cough."

Dr. Jackson tells parents that 99 percent of babies with RSV don't have to be hospitalized.

"I tell them if they're eating, drinking, sleeping, that's a great sign.  If they're not having labored breathing," she added.

She said those infants who stop drinking or can't drink because the airway is obstructed may need to be hospitalized for suctioning and for oxygen.

Easton's getting oxygen through a tracheostomy tube that he still has from the months he spent on a ventilator after birth.

Dr. Jackson has this advice for preventing RSV.

"For infants under four weeks of age, you'd rather not have those babies in a crowd.  This is a highly contagious virus," she said.

RSV can be spread by sneezing or coughing.  The virus can stay alive for hours on surfaces.  Wiping them down with soap and water or disinfectant can help stop the spread.  So can frequent hand washing.

"It's pretty scary.  It's pretty intense, so it's not something I would have ever thought about before I had a kid," said Ford.

Now Easton's parents are focused on his recovery from a bad case of RSV.  He's home after four days in the hospital.

Unlike the flu, there is no vaccine for RSV.  But Dr. Jackson is hopeful that one will be available in around five years.

RSV season generally runs through March.

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