As kids sick with RSV flood children’s hospitals and doctor’s offices, TODAY meteorologist Dylan Dreyer knows first-hand what many parents are going through.
Her two youngest children, sons Oliver, 2, and baby Rusty, 1, are finally feeling better about a week after coming down with the respiratory illness late last month.
“It’s just scary because there’s nothing you can do,” Dylan said. “Oliver would cough so hard, he took his breath away… Rusty was breathing really fast and just had this whistle to his breathing.”
She was especially worried about the baby, who was born six weeks before his due date last year so his lungs were sensitive to begin with as a preemie.
RSV, which stands for respiratory syncytial virus, is a common virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for some infants and young children, the agency noted.
The virus can go from the upper respiratory tract into the lungs and cause more severe disease, NBC News Medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar previously explained.
Doctors advised parents to look out for signs that a child is lethargic or breathing hard or fast.
“If your child, especially under the age of 2, is flaring the nostrils, grunting, head bobbing or you’re seeing sucking in around the collarbones or ribs, that’s much more concerning,” Dr. Michael Koster, director of pediatric infectious diseases at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, told NBC News.
‘You just feel so helpless’
The ordeal in Dylan’s household started with Oliver, who got sick the Thursday before Halloween. He had swim lessons that day and inhaled a lot of water. That night, he developed a “weird cough,” which Dylan thought was from his time in the pool, so she even Googled secondary drowning at one point.
When the toddler kept coughing the next night, it sounded like he had a lot of fluid in his chest, she recalled. He also had a fever of 102.
“We took him to the emergency room because it was midnight and he was not breathing well, like really fast breathing, his heart was racing,” Dylan said.
“We took him in to the hospital that night and they tested him for everything and he turned out he had RSV. It was just a weird coincidence with his incident in the pool.”
Since RSV is highly contagious, she knew the baby might be next to become ill. Dylan and her husband, Brian Fichera, sought medical help for Rusty the day after Halloween when he started wheezing, and had a cough, a runny nose and a fever of 102. Tests confirmed he also had RSV, a frightening time for the family.
“With Ollie, we can at least ask him: Does it hurt anywhere? Is it hard to breathe?” Dylan said. “Rusty, I was just more worried about him because of the wheezing.”
Doctors’ warnings and recommendations made the parents nervous.
“It’s like, ‘Just make sure his lips don’t turn blue. If it looks like he’s really struggling to breathe, bring him back in,'” Dylan recalled.
“So you’re constantly lifting up their shirt and making sure you can’t see their ribs, and you’re constantly shining a flashlight in their face through the middle of the night to make sure his lips aren’t blue.”
Fortunately, the couple didn’t have to bring Rusty back in because his breathing was getting better. But Dylan and her husband were sometimes up all night listening to the boys breathe, she said: “It just breaks your heart — they’re so little… You just feel so helpless.”
To help her sons get through the illness at home, Dylan followed doctor’s advice to put them in a steam bath, make sure the humidifier was running, encourage them to drink lots of water to avoid getting dehydrated and give them Motrin to keep their fevers down .
It took about seven full days for Oliver to get better. He’s now back in school, though he has a lingering cough, Dylan said. Rusty is just starting to feel better this week after crying a lot when he was sick, she noted. Both boys also ended up with an ear infection, “so they both kind of just shared the same thing,” she noted.
Parents know their children better than anyone so if something doesn’t feel right, Dylan urged other families to seek medical help.
“Go to the ER if you think your child is breathing weird. What’s the worst the doctor is going to say? ‘Oh, he’s breathing fine,’” she said.
“(RSV) sucks, it just really sucks, and it’s hard to watch your kid go through it, but they go through it and it just takes a few days and a few nights of lost sleep, but you’ll get through it. Hopefully they don’t have a bad case… but for the most part, I think most kids can handle it. It’s just hard to watch.”