Amid flu outbreak, another dangerous virus spreads among infants

Jude Sanford was hospitalized after he ran a 104 temperature and struggled to breathe.
CBS News

(CBS News) The flu virus is widespread in almost every state in the union and has taken the lives of 20 children. But there is another virus that is putting more young children in the hospital than the flu.

What started out as a simple cold for infant Jude Sanford quickly turned into a visit to the emergency room.

Stephen and Rebekah Sanford were called to their son Jude's bedside after his health quickly deteriorated.
Stephen and Rebekah Sanford were called to their son Jude's bedside after his health quickly deteriorated. CBS News

"We had six-week-old little boy running nearly a 104 temperature and was struggling to breathe, and so, just really concerned," says Jude's father, Stephen. "So we got him here as quick as we could."

Arkansas Children's Hospital is in the middle of a flu epidemic. But Jude was fighting a different infection called RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus. It attacks the lungs and, each year, causes up to 125,000 hospitalizations and more than 200 deaths in babies under age one.

Dr. Michelle Moss helped take care of Jude. She says that right now, more babies are in the intensive care unit for RSV than for the flu.

"In little, tiny babies, in newborns, we'll see them actually stop breathing, and oftentimes that can be the first symptom of RSV," Moss says.

Jude was placed on a ventilator to help him breathe, but he quickly deteriorated, and his parents were called to the bedside at three in the morning.

"For them to call us up there in the middle of the night, I just -- I knew it was -- I felt like it was over, that he was not going to make it," says Jude's mother, Rebekah.

Most children get RSV by age two and have relatively mild symptoms resembling a cold. But for a small percentage of babies like Jude, the tiny airways of the lung can get so inflamed, the virus becomes life threatening.

"He came very close to having to go on life support," Moss says. "But he turned it around and got better."

Researchers are trying to develop a vaccine for RSV. One problem is the immune systems of the hardest-hit groups -- newborns -- are so immature, it's hard for vaccines to be effective.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook