10:00 Common kid virus packs bigger punch »The Sacramento Bee - Lifestyle Her mother has taken precautions to protect Kate Levschan of Corinth, Texas, against RSV since birth.Five-year-old Kate Levschan and her 18-month-old brother, Jacob, have never sat on Santa's lap. Their mother, Marti Levschan, wants to keep it that way.'I've seen what Santa Claus has had wiped on him,' she said. 'You really need to be aware of germs.'Levschan has a good reason to be cautious.When Kate was born, six weeks prematurely, Levschan, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, learned about respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which is so common that almost all children get it by age 2. Most babies bounce back from RSV, which causes coldlike symptoms, but those born prematurely can become seriously ill.About 125,000 children nationwide are hospitalized with RSV each year, and 4,500 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.'RSV can happen in any kid, usually in the first couple of years of life,' said Dr. Donald Murphey, an infectious-disease pediatrician with Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth. 'But the ones we worry about are babies in the first three winters of life.'The illness can occur at any time of year, but cases generally spike in December or January.Babies with weakened immune systems and those with lung or heart disease are at the highest risk for RSV, which can lead to pneumonia and bronchiolitis, an infection of the lung airways. But in recent years, more otherwise healthy babies have become seriously ill with RSV, said Dr. Asuncion Mejias, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.'The majority of our patients who are hospitalized with RSV are full-term, healthy babies with no risk factors,' she said.The rate of hospitalizations for bronchiolitis has more than doubled in the past five years, she said.Most preemies receive a preventive medication during their first winter that wards off RSV. Babies who get the monthly injection might still get sick, but not as seriously, Mejias said. The medication is expensive, however, and is usually only given to babies at high risk.Once a child gets sick, there is no treatment.Parents can also try to prevent the infection by limiting their child's exposure. 'If you have a baby in the first few months of life, you shouldn't be locked up at home, but you should keep him away from big groups of kids, especially when RSV hits,' said Murphey. 'These viruses spread by coughing and touch.'If a baby with coldlike symptoms has difficulty breathing, is wheezing and unusually fussy, parents should see their pediatrician, Mejias said.'This is a very smart virus,' Mejias said. 'It's scary, very common, and there's nothing right now that can cure the disease.'Levschan said she took extra precautions to prevent her children from getting RSV when they were babies and urges other parents to do so.'We made sure relatives washed their hands, and we bought mosquito netting to put over the stroller,' she said.During her first winter, little Kate received the preventive medication against RSV and did not get sick. But the next year she got a respiratory infection that required treatment. She quickly recovered.'If it weren't for all the precautions we took, it could have been much worse,' Levschan said.
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