Even babies born just a few weeks early are at increased risk for health problems. In fact, the majority of preemies are born between 32 and 35 weeks gestation. Parents of larger premature babies need to remember that while their baby may look healthy, he or she might still face complications.
What is RSV and Why Are African-American Infants at Risk?
RSV is a very common virus. It’s so common that virtually 100% of all children contract it by the age of 2. In most healthy children, the symptoms are similar to the common cold and parents may never know that their child has it. But for preemies and babies with certain heart and lung conditions, RSV can lead to a very serious infection requiring medical attention. In fact, RSV infection is the leading cause of infant hospitalization in the U.S., representing 1 in 13 pediatrician’s visits and 1 in 38 trips to the Emergency Department.
According to some studies, infants from multicultural communities—particularly African-American babies—are at increased risk of developing severe RSV, resulting in hospitalization and even death. In fact, one study of almost 20 years of data showed that twice as many Black infants die from RSV each year, compared to White children. While we don’t know the exact reason for the increased risk of RSV among African-American babies, the fact that more premature babies are born in this community than any other may be a contributing factor.
Other known risk factors that may increase the chances of getting RSV include school aged siblings, maternal tobacco use, day care attendance, exposure to environmental smoke/air pollutants, and crowded living conditions.
How Can Parents Protect Their Babies from RSV?
There is no treatment for RSV, so prevention is key. RSV is highly contagious, so washing hands and/or using a hand sanitizer gel, cleaning toys and bedding frequently and avoiding bringing your baby around people who are sick or in large crowds, where they may be exposed to the virus, can help. Babies at high-risk for RSV infection may qualify for a preventive therapy. Parents should speak to their child’s health care provider about preventing RSV. To learn more about the virus, visit www.RSVprotection.com.