COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - We hear a lot about the flu this time of year, but doctors warn there’s something else parents need to be on the lookout for especially in infants.
And right now, hospitals around the country are slammed with cases of it. One local mom is breathing a sigh of relief as her daughter is now taking breaths on her own. She and her partner, Joanne, have two little ones – Oliver, who is now four years old, and baby Maya, who just celebrated one month of life.
“When I was pregnant with her, he would sing to her and rub my belly and kinda look at my belly button and say ‘I can see my sister,’” said Megan Phillips. “He was very excited to get her here and he was very excited when he first met her.”
But that sweet brotherly love is what kicked off some of the scariest weeks of Megan’s life.
“I never really could’ve seen this coming and seen how dangerous this was,” Megan said.
Maya was born on December 10 and she met big brother, Oliver, one day later.
At that point, nobody knew Oliver brought an unwanted gift for baby Maya, by way of a highly contagious virus called Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV.
“She actually developed lower respiratory tract symptoms and presented with low oxygen levels,” said Dr. Duncan Norton with Prisma Health Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Norton said RSV season runs from October through April and many kids will get it before they’re two years old. It generally presents like a mild, cold-like illness. But for one or two in 100 infants, it can be much more severe. The younger the baby, the more likely they won’t exhibit many symptoms.
“I noticed a hint of grayish-blue around her nose and mouth and it went away as I moved her around,” said Megan.
Maya had already been diagnosed with RSV and was back home after a stint in the hospital. The night her brother met her, he went home and ran a high fever. He was quickly diagnosed with RSV and, even after efforts to quarantine everyone else, it eventually got to baby Maya.
Both Megan and Joanne were monitoring Maya’s oxygen levels at home by way of a “smart sock” that can monitor a baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels. So, when the color began to change and the smart sock started dinging, they knew they had to call it in.
“When the ambulance got here and I got in the ambulance with her and they got the oxygen on her, the color of her face came back and I didn’t realize how pale and white she had gotten,” said Megan.
Maya had pneumonia and a collapsed lung, which required weeks’ worth of oxygen.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through,” Megan said. “And splitting my time between my children was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
Now on the other side of crisis, the family wants other parents to be aware. Know the signs and think about who your child might be exposed to or who they may come in contact with on a daily basis. That sniffle your kid is sporting on the playground is something you should think twice about, they said, especially if the child has younger siblings or comes in contact with babies. They also said listen to that little bit of parental paranoia.
“I think, had I not known some of those things, we could be having a totally different story and she wouldn’t be here today,” said Megan. “And I think we were very close to that. My momma gut is what told me this baby needs help, call somebody right away.”
Early symptoms of RSV may include runny nose, a decrease in appetite, and a cough which may progress to wheezing. All of those truly look like the signs of a common cold, but symptoms can become severe a few days into the illness. In very young infants, like Maya, the only symptoms they may show are irritability, decreased activity, and appetite and apnea or pauses while breathing, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
There’s no vaccine, only vigilance, as we get closer to the peak of the season.