Cold and flu season is in swing, so you’re probably taking some extra anti-sickness precautions, such as washing your hands more frequently and getting that flu shot.
But there’s another equally dangerous illness that hits during this time of year and causes the same miserable symptoms. It doesn’t get nearly as much attention, however, and that’s prompted actress Vanessa Lachey to speak out about her toddler son’s experience with it.
Lachey’s son Phoenix was diagnosed with severe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in January 2018 and had to be hospitalized for six days. He had been born prematurely about a year earlier.
“When I gave birth to my youngest, Phoenix, at 30 weeks, I knew he would need extra care,” Lachey wrote in a recent Instagram post. “But I wasn’t aware that he was at an increased risk for a common respiratory virus called #RSV due to his underdeveloped lungs and immature immune system.”
RSV is most prevalent from the beginning of fall to the end of spring, according to Mayo Clinic. The majority of kids under 2 get it, and adults can catch it too. In otherwise healthy patients, symptoms include runny nose, dry cough, sore throat, and low fever; they tend to resolve in a week or two with no long-term effects.
But more severe cases, like Phoenix’s, usually manifest in premature babies, infants, older adults, people with heart and lung disease, and anyone with a weakened immune system. If this happens, the cold-like symptoms can escalate and turn into potentially life-threatening signs such as difficulty breathing, wheezing, and bluish skin.
“I actually took Phoenix to the doctor multiple times, and they just brushed it off as a flu-like virus,” Lachey tells Health. “I knew when his coughing continued, there was wheezing, his temperature was over 100 for a long period of time, and he had bluish nails and lips that something was wrong.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, RSV is responsible for up to 125,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States and about 160,000 deaths globally per year.
Like the common cold and flu, there’s no cure for RSV. Self-care measures such as staying in bed and staying hydrated can make a patient more comfortable while the virus runs its course. If breathing issues or a high fever develops, a hospital stay might be needed to help the patient recover.
Lachey urges everyone to educate themselves about RSV, especially those who are at high risk or have a child who is. To protect yourself from the illness, wash your hands frequently, avoid sharing drinks, keep toys clean, and don’t smoke.
“If you notice some of the symptoms, even just some of them, I encourage you to talk to your healthcare provider and ask questions about RSV,” Lachey says.