Mom shares toddler's battle with common, contagious RSV

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Davis Howard isn't yet a year old, but the Atlanta toddler has already landed in a neonatal intensive care unit twice because of a respiratory virus.

When Howard was about six-weeks old, his mother Kari Davis noticed he was struggling to breathe, his tiny chest going rapidly up and down.

Kari and her husband Justin took him to the pediatrician, who called an ambulance to rush the infant to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite's emergency department.

"We only had a mile to go (to the hospital)," Kari Davis says. "And they said, 'Don't even risk going to the hospital in a car. We need him in an ambulance.' And they had him on oxygen all the way to Scottish Rite."

Davis landed in the NICU with RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Pediatrician-In-Chief Jim Fortenberry says it's the virus that causes the common cold in adults.

Yet, for babies like Davis, especially those born prematurely, RSV can be much more dangerous.

"It's basically kind of like bronchitis for a baby. And it can be deadly," says Kari Howard.

Davis, who weighed just 10 pounds, spent a week in the NICU on oxygen, getting his lungs suctioned to help him breathe.

He got better.

But, about 5 months later, the same thing happened again.

"I was literally going, taking him to bed one night, and he was having the same labored breathing," his mother remembers.

Davis Howard landed back in Children's NICU for another week.

"It was awful," says Kari Howard. "I was in the corner hyperventilating."

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's 3 emergency departments are seeing a lot of RSV and cold viruses right now.

Dr. Fortenberry says, like a cold, RSV is highly contagious.

"It's passed pretty easily form hand to hand, hand to eye, hand to mouth," Fortenberry says. "So it's really critical to practice good handwashing."

Fortenberry says most infants will get through RSV with rest and fluids, and don't need to come to an ER.

But in severe cases, like Davis, babies may have difficulty breathing, a high fever, and thick nasal discharge, and a barking cough. Sometimes they stop eating, or become unusually fussy or inactive.

"Just the labored breathing is really the number one thing," Kari Howard says. "So if you see that, I would recommend taking your child to the ER or your pediatrician immediately."

There's no vaccine for RSV.

But, Dr. Fortenberry says, a medication known as Synagis can help protect a small group of premature babies, considered most at-risk.

If your baby was born early, he says, talk to your pediatrician about that medication.

Today, Davis Howard still needs daily breathing treatments and asthma medication, but, the Howards are grateful their little guy is healthy again.

"He is great, sleeps through the night. Always has," Kari Howard says. "He's just an amazing kid and we're blessed to have him."