DON’T kiss a newborn because you could give them Respiratory Syncytial Virus, warns Tahni Baird.
The Coogee paramedic knows first-hand the dangers of RSV after her 18-month-old son Henry contracted it and was hospitalised for five days with supportive oxygen and tube feeding and lost 10 per cent of his bodyweight.
She suspects he picked it up at daycare.
Most folk have never heard of RSV, but a new report revealed it hospitalises more Australian children in their first year of life – about 12,000 on average – than any other respiratory virus, including influenza.
Baird says the number of patients she transported with RSV in 2022 was particularly high, including a nine-day-old baby she had to resuscitate.
“It may seem irresistible to kiss a newborn, however diseases such as RSV, whooping cough, flu, the common cold and even cold sores can be transmitted via kissing, and newborns are still developing their immune systems making them significantly more susceptible to illness,” she says.
“Young babies have small and narrow airways, so any inflammation from a respiratory virus can cause them to be extremely unwell and they may need breathing support. Whooping cough and RSV can kill young babies.”
So what is RSV and how can you tell it apart from a cold or flu?
“Difficulty breathing, fast and shallow breathing, lethargy and the skin between the ribs and under the diaphragm pulling in when breathing are tell tale signs of respiratory distress in young children,” Baird says.
“Excessive sleepiness and fever, cough and runny nose are all symptoms of RSV. The child might be irritable and seem very tired.
“It can be difficult to separate cold and flu symptoms from RSV, however babies and toddlers with it will not get better as quickly as you would expect with a common cold and may require hospitalisation and supplementary oxygen to help them get better.”
Other symptoms associated with difficulty breathing include nasal flaring, head bopping and grunting.
The Immunisation Foundation Australia is hopeful RSV will soon become a vaccine-preventable illness. However until that occurs, the Foundation wants all Australians responsible for the wellbeing of an infant to learn more about it.
RSV can cause bronchiolitis or pneumonia, so medical care is important for infants who display severe symptoms including a high fever, shortness of breath and a greater effort to breathe.
The founder of Immunisation Foundation Australia, Catherine Hughes AM, had her baby daughter hospitalised with RSV just 18 months after her newborn son Riley tragically lost his life to whooping cough.
“The message is clear,” she says.
“RSV is too serious and unpredictable to delay medical care. Babies and young children can deteriorate very quickly.”
RSV Awareness Week comes to a close today (Saturday June 10). To find out more see ifa.org.au/rsvandme/