A respiratory virus is striking hard among Spokane County babies this year, killing at least one and hospitalizing dozens.
“It’s the worst in many years, perhaps the worst since I’ve been around,” said Dr. William Greene, a pediatric specialist.
Babies who get respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which masquerades as a simple cold, quickly can end up on oxygen in an intensive care unit.
Since November, 52 babies with the virus have landed in intensive care at Sacred Heart Medical Center compared with just 14 last year. Another 100 or so were admitted with RSV but didn’t require intensive care, according to hospital staff.
“The virus is stronger this year, and the kids are sicker and sicker longer,” said Sacred Heart spokesman Tom Sofio.
No one knows why.
A laboratory that conducts RSV tests for most hospitals in the area also reported record numbers of cases.
Some 288 tests were positive at Pathology Associates Medical Laboratory since November, compared with only 15 cases during the same period a year ago.
“There’s a big outbreak going on,” said Dr. Laverne Bernard, medical director at the lab.
Both adults and children can get the virus, and most fight it off without complications. Those hospitalized are usually under a year old.
Kids with RSV may appear to have a cold with typical congestion, a cough and a runny nose. The virus, however, causes inflammation and extra mucous in the lungs. Eventually, it can lead to pneumonia.
For Suzanne Nikolay, a stuffy nose led to a nightmare.
The Spokane computer programmer is attending funeral services today for her 2-1/2-month-old daughter, Ariana, who died Sunday after being diagnosed with the virus in late December.
“I thought she had the sniffles,” said Nikolay. “Eight hours later, she was on a respirator.”
Ariana’s doctor admitted her to Sacred Heart after Nikolay tried to get cold medicine for the baby.
“The only reason the doctor admitted her to the hospital was because her color was funny,” said Nikolay, who has three other children.
Ariana may have had more trouble fighting off the virus because she was born two months premature. However, she spent only 10 days in the hospital after birth and remained healthy until RSV struck, Nikolay said.
The virus began attacking her lungs and filling them with fluid. Ariana eventually suffered a heart attack, and her kidneys and liver began to shut down, Nikolay said.
The family decided to remove the baby from life support after doctors told them Ariana would be brain dead if she survived.
Doctors say parents should take sick children to see a doctor if they suspect RSV. “A parent who has a young child or infant coughing and congested and having difficulty breathing should see their physician promptly,” said Dr. Peter Graves, one of Ariana’s doctors.
The virus is transmitted like a cold, and frequent hand washing, especially when caring for other sick family members, helps prevent it.
On Washington’s West Side, where Seattle’s Children’s Hospital last month admitted 130 babies with RSV. In a typical December, 5 to 10 infants are treated for the virus. The trend is continuing this month.
As in years past, far fewer people are expected to contract the virus in the spring and summer.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Jeanette White Staff writer Staff writer Julie Titone contributed to this report.