Have you heard of RSV? Probably, though you may not realize its potential impact. Almost 100 percent of babies will contract the virus at some point, and for most kiddos, you probably won't even notice. But for some high risk babies, the virus can be deadly. Vanessa Lachey spoke to Romper about RSV, and the six harrowing days her youngest son, a preemie, spent in the PICU when he got RSV when he was just over a year old. Lachey doesn't want any other moms to experience what she did, so through a partnership with AstraZeneca, she's hoping to help moms get the vital information she wished she'd had.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 57,000 children younger than 5 years old are admitted to the hospital every year because of Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection, or RSV. While RSV is not particularly dangerous for most children, the disease can be fatal for those at high risk, including premature babies, babies younger than 6 months old, those with weakened immune systems, children with chronic lung or heart disease or those who have neuromuscular disorders including those who have difficulty swallowing. A severe RSV infection can lead to bronchiolitis or pneumonia. And children who are hospitalized may require oxygen, intubation, or other scary medical procedures.
When her youngest son, Phoenix, who was born at 30 weeks, contracted the virus, Lachey says that she did not realize just how very serious the situation was. "I didn’t understand what RSV was," she says, explaining that she'd heard of it in passing but until Phoenix got it, she hadn't realized it was even a "thing."
Now she's trying to spread awareness for other moms because, "I feel like for the first time in my mommyhood I was unprepared, uneducated." She says that at the time Phoenix got the virus her daughter, Brooklyn, also had it. But while Phoenix was in real danger, Brooklyn had no symptoms other than a little runny nose. "So I’m like why is it so different?"
Perhaps one of the scariest aspects of Lachey's story is that Phoenix did not get correctly diagnosed or treated right away. He got the virus while the family was on vacation. "I took him to multiple doctors who assured me that it was a cold or a bug... One of them actually said just give him some TLC."
Even when Lachey asked directly if it was RSV, she says one doctor simply listened to her baby's chest with a stethoscope and said it wasn't. Eventually, Lachey says she realized something was not right and the family caught the first flight possible back to the states. They landed in Florida, where Phoenix was immediately admitted to the hospital.
"He was in the PICU for six days, which were the worst six days, honestly, after his birth, of mine and Nick’s life," Lachey says. "Because you know, you have three babies and your littlest is there on a breathing machine and you feel helpless."
That's quite enough terror for any one mom to deal with, so it's obvious why spreading information about this is so close to Lachey's heart. Above all she stresses the importance of prevention, since there is no real treatment for the RSV virus. She urges parents to understand if their child is at high risk, particularly during the months of November to March, which is RSV season as well as cold and flu season. "I feel like I’m giving more of a checklist to mommies who already have a lot to do, trust me. I’m a working mom; my husband’s on tour; I have three children. I get it," she says, but adds that after six days in the PICU nothing is too much work.
Of primary importance, of course, is washing up constantly. "Wash your hands as much as you can, wash your kids hands as much as they can, and change clothes. Germs live on clothes. Change bedding. Clean and disinfect toys as often as you can," she says. "If one of them gets sick, this seems hard, but it’s super important to try to keep them as separated as you can." And if your child is at high risk, Lachey says to look for any signs that they are having trouble breathing, including to see if their chest is caving in a little, if their nostrils are flaring or if they have a fever for several days. Another huge red flag is if you notice a blueish mouth or nails.
For more information, Lachey encourages everyone to go to RSVProtection.com to learn more about the risks and how to prevent them. The good news is that as scary as RSV is, it can be prevented. And after his terrifying hospital stay, baby Phoenix is now happy, healthy, and at home with his family.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the age of Lachey's son at the time of publication. The headline has been updated.
After a very frustrating first birth experience, this Deaf mother wanted a change. Will the help of two Deaf doulas give the quality communication and birth experience this mom wants and deserves? Watch Episode Four of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below, and visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes.