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Virus Is A Danger To Infants

Cold and flu are not the only bugs out there this winter.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, is another virus that can cause respiratory misery. And, it can be especially dangerous for infants, explains Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay.

RSV is similar to the common cold. The virus is very common, and most babies have had it by the time they are two years old. It invades the respiratory system just like a cold or flu, causing similar symptoms like sniffles, sore throat, fever and cough. Most of the time, it's hard to tell the difference. But for small babies, it can cause serious complications.

For most people, it comes and goes like a cold in one or two weeks. But young babies under one year of age can come down with a life-threatening case of RSV that requires hospitalization for complications like bronchitis, which is inflammation of the smaller airways in the lungs, or pneumonia.

An estimated 50,000 to 80,000 babies under one year of age are hospitalized in the United States every year with RSV. About 500 die each year from complications.

Senay says there is more evidence that babies hit hard by the virus may also be more prone to develop wheezing and asthma later in childhood.

She suggest parents keep an eye out for a cold that takes a sudden turn for the worse with symptoms like flared nostrils, labored breathing, lethargy and fever. Some babies are at much higher risk to begin with.

Babies between the age of six weeks and six months, premature babies and babies with existing immune deficiencies or lung or heart problems are at the highest risk of complications from RSV.

Unfortunately there's no lifelong immunity to RSV, so a child can have it over and over again. But, the older a child gets, the less the chance of serious complications.

It is hard to avoid RSV because there's no vaccine and it is easily spread through the air by coughing, sneezing or by touching an infected person. The virus can also survive on bedding and countertops for a few hours. For high-risk infants, there are medications that can be given beforehand by injection to reduce the severity of symptoms. There are also some basic precautions everyone can take to reduce the chance of exposing a baby to RSV.

To reduce RSV risk, make sure hands are washed by anyone who might touch your baby, including immediate family and visitors; don't let your baby near people who have symptoms of a respiratory infection; and keep your baby away from tobacco smoke, which can damage the respiratory system and make it easier to catch a virus.

Senay says another place where your child can pick up RSV pretty easily in daycare, where other kids can easily spread germs to others.