At this time of year, parents with small babies often wonder how to keep them healthy and safe from common winter illnesses.
Because babies born prematurely are at higher risk, the charities Bliss and Tamba have provided a checklist for preventing winter illnesses . Keeping this simple advice in mind will give all parents the confidence to care for their new babies during the coming winter months.
W Â– Wash hands regularly with soap and water Â– especially before you touch your baby. Make sure siblings and visitors wash their hands too. Wash or wipe toys regularly to prevent the spread of germs
I Â– Immunisations may be given to babies and children to build their immunity against certain illnesses including winter-related illnesses such as influenza, pneumonia and RSV. Some immunisations are given routinely according to an agreed schedule; others are given to high risk groups only. Your doctor will be able to advise you about which immunisations your child should receive
N Â– No smoking Â– ensure your baby is kept away from tobacco smoke. Never allow anyone to smoke around your baby
T Â– Tissues are better than hands for catching sneezes and coughs. Use disposable tissues rather than cloths to capture and dispose of germs. Also, keep your baby away from other children and adults who show signs of a cold
E Â– Examine your baby for signs of winter illness such as runny or blocked nose, cough, sneezing and rapid breathing. Other signs might be mild fever, loss of appetite, red eyes, fatigue and general crankiness
R Â– Rest and recover Â– help your baby by making sure he/she has plenty to drink and gets enough sleep. You can remove any mucus from your baby's nose and put a humidifier in the bedroom at night to make your baby more comfortable.
Winter Illness Tips
Â• If your baby is ill, contact a doctor or NHS Direct if his/her temperature rises to over 38Â°C (100.4 Â°F), if your baby has a persistent cough, if your baby starts wheezing, has breathing difficulties or a rash Â• Bliss is a charity for parents of premature and sick babies with a website and a help line (0500 618 140) for support and information Â• Tamba is the twins and multiple births association and their website & help line 0800 138 0509 provide suggestions for coping when one or more of your babies is ill Â• The More Than a Cold website (www.morethanacold.co.uk) helps parents understand common winter illnesses and how to prevent them
Professor Warren Lenney, Consultant Respiratory Paediatrician and Professor of Respiratory Child Health, University Hospital of North Staffordshire and Keele University said Â“I see many babies in my out-patient clinic. Only a few families have ever heard of bronchiolitis or the RS Virus. I welcome this campaign to raise awareness of how it is possible to reduce the severity of the symptoms of RSV bronchiolitis. It is particularly important to give advice when babies are born prematurely as they can be more severely affected. We all have a part to play in reducing the risk of the infection in vulnerable babies both now and in the future.Â”
Bronchiolitis is a common lung infection affecting babies and young children that can cause serious symptoms, such as breathing difficulties. In some cases, bronchiolitis can be life threatening. It is a seasonal condition that usually occurs in the winter months between November and March. RSV is responsible for 80% of cases of bronchiolitis in babies and young children . Each year around 30,000 infants in the UK are admitted to hospital with RSV. RSV is a growing problem for the NHS as the number of babies being admitted with bronchiolitis increased by 50% between 2004 and 2011. Despite these facts, new research shows that only 16% of parents had heard of RSVv. Parents of premature babies are often not told about the risk of winter viruses or given support to prevent them.
Alison Sanson of Chandler's Ford, Hampshire, has 18 month old twin boys, Michael and Edward, who were born at 36 weeks and five days. They were six months old when they were first affected by bronchiolitis and were both admitted to hospital where they tested positive for RSV. Alison first went to the doctor because the twins had trouble breathing. She was told that there was nothing that she could do but wait and see whether they could cope on their own. She was also told to look out for certain symptoms such as body lurching. The twins started to exhibit some of the symptoms, including ribs showing when they breathed, very fast breathing, and significantly reduced feeding, and so Alison took them to the GP and to hospital, each on more than one occasion, but was always told to go home as they were just about coping without the need for intervention.
When the twins were eventually admitted to hospital a few days later, they were very poorly and needed oxygen and feeding tubes. Michael was in hospital for 11 days and Edward was in for five. Â“The time that they were in hospital was very hard as was the period leading up to thatÂ”, recalls Alison. Â“It was almost a relief when they were admitted in to hospital as before that it felt like a waiting game; waiting for them to get to the point where they needed more help than we could give them at home.Â”
Alison hopes other parents can avoid winter illnesses including bronchiolitis. Â“Now that I am aware of bronchiolitis, I realise that it affects a lot of peopleÂ”, she says. Â“It is still affecting us now as both boys continue to have bad chests. We have been warned that this winter is likely to bring further difficulties, but hopefully as the boys get older they will get stronger.Â”