Thursday, November 17, 2011

World Prematurity Day & RSV: What You Need To Know

In my previous job as a labor and delivery nurse, the most stressful and anxious moments for me were when women came into our department in premature labor. Our small hospital wasn't equipped for preemies, so we often had to send them to a larger hospital if the labor couldn't be stopped, or if there wasn't enough time, prepare for a preemie birth and then get the infant shipped to a NICU as soon as possible.

I could tell these women were scared, and I shared their fears. No one wants to have a baby too early. I am lucky to have two daughters who were born full-term, but I have friends who have lost children to prematurity. I had a sister who died due to complications from being born too soon as well.

1,400 babies are born prematurely in the United States every day, and 13 million babies are affected by prematurity around the world. Prematurity, defined as being born before 37 weeks completed gestation, disrupts a baby’s development in the womb, often stunting the growth of some of the body’s most critical organs.

At birth, preemies often have difficulty with breathing, feeding and maintaining temperature. Because their immune systems haven’t had time to fully mature, preterm infants are more likely to develop infections, and because their lungs are underdeveloped, they are more susceptible to respiratory problems.

One infection that parents of preemies must watch out for is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).  For the average, full-term infant, RSV is about as serious as the common cold. But for preemies, RSV can attack their already weak systems, requiring medical intervention or hospitalization. Even with medical attention, up to 500 infants die each year from RSV.

Today, on World Prematurity Day, I want to share information about RSV as well as some tips to help prevent it, because the number one way to help reduce the risk for RSV is through education.

While RSV may mimic the symptoms of a cold at first, there are warning signs that your child could be in danger. If your infant shows any of the following symptoms, you should contact your pediatrician immediately:

• Persistent coughing or wheezing
• Rapid, difficult, or gasping breaths
• Blue color on the lips, mouth, or under the fingernails
• High fever
• Extreme fatigue
• Difficulty feeding

Like the flu, RSV has a peak season from November through March, although some regions might have longer seasons.

While there is no cure for RSV, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk for your child:

• Wash hands, toys, bedding, and play areas frequently
• Ensure you, your family, and any visitors in your home wash their hands or use hand sanitizer
• Avoid large crowds and people who may be sick
• Never let anyone smoke near your baby
• Speak with your child’s doctor if you believe he or she may be at high risk for RSV, as a preventive therapy may be available

Even if you don't have a preemie, it's important to consider these suggestions. One in eight infants in the United States is born premature, which means there's a strong chance you know or will come in contact with a preemie in your daily life. Washing your hands frequently, keeping common areas sanitized, and avoiding large public places when you're sick can all help to save the life of an infant who doesn't have the strength to fight off a virus like RSV.

So today, on World Prematurity Day, consider what you can do to help stop the spread of RSV, and take a few moments to learn about premature birth and what's being done by organizations like the March of Dimes to improve the outcomes for these tiny babies. We can't always stop a baby from being born too soon, but we can improve that baby's chances of having a long, healthy life.

Full disclosure: I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of MedImmune and received a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.

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