National RSV Awareness Week: Mums Share their Heartbreaking Stories

Posted in Birth Stories.

A baby with RSV asleep in a hospital bed.

When Renae’s twins were just four months old, they fell seriously unwell within days of each other.

Her daughter, Piper, was the first to develop cold-like symptoms. Soon enough, Renae had not one but two babies to worry about when her son, Henry, got sick too.

When the twins started struggling to breathe, she took them straight to her local hospital in rural Queensland, where they were diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a very common winter illness in young children.

“Piper initially got sick first, she handled it quite well, but by night three I took her to the hospital because I was worried,” Mum’s Grapevine group member Renae shares.

“They said she just had a viral infection and to keep doing what I had been doing, saline in the nose and Panadol and Nurofen. Day four of Piper being sick, Henry came down with the same symptoms – runny nose, cough and fevers. By that night his breathing had begun to decline a little, so the next morning I decided it was best to take him to the hospital too as he was having quite a bit of trouble breathing. We were assessed and admitted with RSV and bronchitis that morning.”

The family stayed overnight at Dalby Hospital for monitoring, but unfortunately, poor little Henry’s breathing only worsened.

Twins sick with RSV

“The doctor decided that it was best to transfer us to Toowoomba Base as they were more equipped to deal with children his age and Dalby Hospital couldn’t facilitate the high flow oxygen he needed.

“I tried to keep them together but it was too hard so Piper went to her aunty’s and Henry and I went to Toowoomba. It was very hard having them separated, it was also the first time I had been away from them since they were in special care nursery so it really played on my emotions. When we arrived in Toowoomba, they did more tests and found he also had rhinovirus on top of bronchitis and RSV.”

Renae and Henry spent another two rough nights in hospital, before he was well enough to be sent home and reunited with his twin sister.

A sick baby is airlifted to hospital.

A mother holds a sick baby in hospital

A baby with RSV in hospital.

She’s one of many mums sharing her story as part of Australia’s inaugural RSV Awareness Week (June 4-10), an initiative driven by Catherine Hughes, founder of the Immunisation Foundation of Australia, who wanted to put RSV in the spotlight after her own personal experience.

Coinciding with the onset of winter and peak RSV season, the awareness week aims to shine a spotlight on the unpredictable and potentially dangerous virus that hospitalises more Australian babies than any other respiratory virus, including influenza.

“Thousands of Australian families have been impacted by severe RSV, including my own,” says Ms Hughes.

“In the winter of 2016, just 18 months after our four-week-old baby boy had died from the complications of whooping cough, my husband and I confronted the realities of RSV when three-week old Lucy was rushed to hospital.

“Although we’d tried everything to protect her by keeping her home and limiting visitors, her big sister came home from kindy with a mild cold. Having lost Riley the previous year, it was nearly impossible to stop her sister from smothering her with kisses, and unfortunately, Lucy started sneezing and coughing. My husband and I couldn’t believe it – we panicked and took her straight to our local children’s hospital, the same hospital where our son had died just eighteen months before. Lucy was admitted for two nights, requiring oxygen, and then she was well enough to return home.

“I now know how lucky we were — throughout our ‘RSV and Me’ campaign I have spoken with so many other families who have had really long, traumatic hospital stays. I’d never really heard much about RSV until Lucy was sick with it, but it’s just so common – all parents need to be aware of it and know that it can become serious.”

A toddler cuddles her newborn sister

Ms Hughes wants other mums to be on the lookout for RSV symptoms this winter — which can include a runny nose, cough, reduced feeding and fever. Complications include wheezing and difficulty breathing, which can develop into pneumonia.

RSV is spread through respiratory secretions when an infected person sneezes or coughs. It’s highly contagious among children, especially at daycare, kindergarten and school.

According to The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, almost all children have had an RSV infection by age two, but babies in their first year of life are more likely to experience severe infections requiring hospitalisation because their airways are smaller.

A dad holds his newborn in hospital

“With more than 18,000 confirmed cases of RSV already this year in children under the age of 5, Australia’s first ever RSV Awareness Week cannot come soon enough,” Ms Hughes says.

“As a Foundation that advocates for immunisation, we are hopeful that RSV will soon become a vaccine-preventable illness. However, until that occurs, we want all Australians responsible for the wellbeing of an infant to learn more about RSV, how to prevent infection, ways to minimise its impact, and importantly, know when to seek medical care.”

Ms Hughes is urging other parents to share their RSV experiences to help raise awareness of the virus using the hashtags #RSVandMe and #RSVweek23. To find out more, go to the RSV and Me website.

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