Health Team

Cold-like virus kills hundreds of children in U.S.

Posted January 8, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— A severe, cold-like virus sends hundreds of thousands of children to the hospital each year in the United States and kills hundreds.

Respiratory syncytial virus usually infects children before the age of 2 – about 125,000 a year. About 500 of the children develop severe symptoms and die.

Virus looks like cold but is fatal Virus looks like cold but is fatal

At first, the parents of Elijah Jackson thought their 6-month-old infant just had a runny nose.

"We thought it was just a little family cold that everybody had caught," his mother, Danielle Dupree said.

But his parents saw Elijah's symptoms grow worse. "His chest was rising really high and caving in," his father, Tunene Jackson, said.

"I called my doc, and they said, 'No, call 911," Dupree said.

Elijah was taken to WakeMed, where doctors helped him with breathing and feeding and worked to control his fever, which spiked to 103 degrees.

Elijah was one of a growing number of infants to have gotten RSV. Cases have reached an unusually high peak this winter, up to 50 percent higher than in 2007, WakeMed doctors said.

"Since December, we've had about 230 patients," Dr. Stephen Linenweber, a pediatrician at WakeMed, said.

RSV can be life-threatening for some children, especially those under 6 months old. Those more prone to respiratory problems – such as premature babies and those born with heart or lung problems or immune deficiencies – are more susceptible to RSV.

As children get closer to school age, their immune systems typically grow strong enough to fight off the virus.

The virus spreads in secretions, as do other viruses.

"Washing your hands is essential. Try to limit contact with each other this time of year," Linenweber said.

Parents should call their child's doctor when they notice symptoms, including labored breathing, a worsening cough, difficulty feeding or bluish lips or fingernails.

"Just the littlest cold can turn into the worst thing," Linenweber said.


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  • diver Jan 12, 2009

    There really is no safe place from RSV. Your child can get it from grandma's, walmart, daycare, practically anywhere. animallover the worst place to be if your child has serious RSV is away from the hospital. If he already has RSV, there's no reason to rush him out of the hospital! He needs to be treated with proper medication.

  • scientistjo Jan 9, 2009

    Animal lover...If he weren't in the hospital he would die. Therefore, anywhere BUT the hospital is "most dangerous place". Vaccines have nothing to do with getting a virus. Time to take a few biology classes?

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Jan 9, 2009

    Maybe soon scientists will find the answer. And maybe if we spent a fraction of our time, energy and money on sports, our society would action get somewhere. How 'bout we pay the lead scientists on this project $1 million/year?

    And where are all of the popular deities?...who are either powerless and therefore not worthy of worship...or sadistic, because they can end baby suffering & death but don't.

    No, we're on our own folks. Smart, altruistic humans will end this suffering, but they need our support.

  • ehenry Jan 9, 2009

    My daughter had this at two months. It's a scary thing to watch your child so little not being able to breath. I don't know what the cause is but they need to do some research to get to the bottom of it. Before it's an epiedemic!

  • rosted Jan 9, 2009

    My son had this last winter. RSV is very hard for little ones. He caught it at daycare and had to be hospitalized twice b/c he needed to have the breathing treatments, you can only have them at the hospital. They are put in rooms with no contact with anyone without a mask and gloves. A very sterile room. Learn about it first hand before you talk about what they should and shouldn't do!

  • Duke1977 Jan 9, 2009

    Animal Lover, if you are suggesting that Elijah has RSV because he had too many vaccines or because of supposed "toxicity" of vaccines then you are way off base. Re getting him out of the hospital, you are right but you need to note that he caught this somewhere else (like daycare maybe?).

  • CestLaVie Jan 9, 2009

    And how many vaccines has little Elijah had since birth??

    Good Lord! Get him out of the hospital fast - that's the worst & most dangerous place for him to be re infections & LACK of simple sanitary measures such as washing hands or sanitizing with bleach! I'm serious.