RSV Isn’t COVID-19, But It’s Just as Serious

By Crystal Baker

This fall, parents may worry over every cough or sniffle, as well they should. Even if it’s not COVID-19, it could be something just as dangerous – RSV.

My family learned this the hard way. In March I went back to work and my son Cameron turned 3 months just as he started at daycare. Within a week, a sign appeared on the daycare’s door warning parents a child in his class had tested positive for RSV.  

Information about COVID-19 symptoms is everywhere, but I’d never heard of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). As it turns out, the two viruses have many of the same early symptoms, including a runny nose, congestion, and a low-grade fever. When Cameron became congested and lethargic, I knew something wasn’t right.

The pediatrician suspected early-stage RSV even though Cameron tested negative. She gave us a nebulizer and some medications, but they didn’t seem to help. Later that night, Cameron did not want to wake up and when he finally did, his oxygen levels were low and he started breathing rapidly. As a new mom, I was absolutely terrified.

We soon found ourselves in the emergency room, the last place I wanted to be during the COVID pandemic. There, Cameron tested positive for RSV. He was admitted to the hospital, where he spent five days on oxygen.

I looked on for over 30 minutes as the team of nurses struggled multiple times to start an IV. He’d gotten severely dehydrated in just the 36 hours he was sick. I sat by his bed, alone, as his fever spiked.

The situation was doubly stressful because of COVID-19 precautions. Only one parent could be in the hospital with Cameron at a time. My husband and I try hard to parent together, yet at the scariest time of our child’s life, every decision had to be made alone.

Cameron’s hospitalization also ended breastfeeding for us. I know breastfeeding provides countless benefits to both mom and baby, and it was the right choice for our family. Even though I didn’t have an oversupply, we were making it work. It’s still hard for me to accept that I couldn’t feed him that way for longer. 

Looking back, the whole ordeal was heart-wrenching, yet we are so grateful because Cameron survived. Not every baby who gets RSV does. 

As fall marks the start of RSV season in most parts of the country, I want every parent to vigilantly watch for RSV symptoms just as the world remains vigilant for COVID-19. I hope more parents can learn about this disease and the ways to prevent it, without the kind of heartbreaking hospital stay that our family endured.

Crystal Baker, a patient advocate, lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband and son.


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