New survey indicates preemie parents uninformed about RSV prevention

As RSV season nears its peak, parents of premature infants need to know more about protecting their babies against this common respiratory virus

Although premature infants are at increased risk of hospitalization due to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), nearly one half of parents of premature infants are not aware of preventive medicine that can help protect their babies from RSV, according to a recent Internet survey from the National Perinatal Association (NPA). With premature births at a record high of one in eight births each year, there's an urgent need to close this information gap -- especially now that RSV season is well underway. RSV infection occurs most often from late fall to early spring. Most illness occurs between November and April, although there may be seasonal variation in different regions of the country.

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that RSV is the leading cause of infant hospitalization and that the rate increased 25 percent between 1997 and 2002.4 The early symptoms of RSV are often similar to those of a cold or influenza, but the consequences of RSV infection may be more serious for premature infants, who are at greater risk of developing severe bronchiolitis or pneumonia and being hospitalized.5 Each year 125,000 hospitalizations occur in young children due to RSV-related bronchiolitis or lower respiratory tract infection, and one to two percent of these infants die.6

"We need to do more to educate parents about how they can reduce their babies' risk for becoming victims of this virus, which lands far too many infants in the hospital," said NPA President Albert L. Pizzica, D.O., FAAP.

Ninety percent of parents whose babies have been hospitalized with RSV say that parents need better information about RSV prevention. Speaking from their own experience, almost 58 percent of these parents said they did not know about medication that could have helped prevent their child's hospitalization.

Significant Impact

The NPA survey also shed light on how the arrival of a premature child can affect a family's daily life. Seven out of 10 parents surveyed spent more time at home in the months following their baby's birth, and more than half socialized with friends less often. More than a quarter quit work, possibly putting a strain on the family's finances.

Families face emotional strain, too; and they worry about the possibility that their premature child will face long-term health problems: Nearly half of the parents surveyed, including more than 60 percent of those whose babies were born at 31 weeks gestation or less, say they are concerned about these potential health problems.

"Helping to prevent premature babies from being hospitalized with RSV does more than just protect their health," says Dr. Pizzica. "It also keeps the emotional and financial stresses on their parents from increasing."

Reducing the Risk of RSV

Preventing infection is the best way to help protect all babies from the potentially dangerous effects of RSV. On their own, parents can help decrease their baby's exposure to respiratory viruses by taking the following steps:

  • Always wash their hands before holding their child, and insist that others do, too.
  • Wash their baby's toys, clothes, play areas and bedding often.
  • Do not share personal items (pacifiers, cups, forks, spoons, towels, washcloths).
  • Keep their baby away from anyone with a cold or influenza, and avoid crowded areas and day care during RSV season.
  • Never let anyone smoke around their baby.

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Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics, March of Dimes.

In addition to taking these preventive measures, parents should be on the lookout for RSV symptoms especially at this time of year. They should call the pediatrician right away if their baby develops a cold, or exhibits breathing problems or wheezing, worsening cough, blue lips or fingernails (a sign of low blood-oxygen levels), or a fever. In addition, because RSV is often spread early in the course of infection and sometimes before symptoms are clear, parents also should talk with the premature baby's doctor about other actions they can take to help protect their child from RSV, including giving preventive medication, if appropriate. They can find more information about RSV at www.RSVprevention.com.

About the Survey
The Premature Infants Survey was conducted by USA/DIRECT, Inc., among a nationally representative online sample of 500 parents of premature children age 5 years or younger. Results are reliable at the 95 percent level of confidence with a margin of error of +/- four percent.

About the National Perinatal Association
The National Perinatal Association (NPA) is a multidisciplinary group concerned with perinatal health issues from preconception through infancy. NPA members foster optimal perinatal health and quality health care by promoting education, supporting research and influencing national priorities. NPA sponsors an annual clinical conference, serves as an education and legislative resource center, and facilitates the education of health care professionals. As a coordinating body, NPA encourages the development of new perinatal organizations and promotes communication among existing groups.

The survey was underwritten by MedImmune, Inc.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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