preemie baby in NICU

November 17th marks World Prematurity Day.

This day is dedicated to help raise awareness about preemies and the potential risks that are associated with premature births. 13 million babies are born early each year. More than half a million are in the United States.

Sadly, prematurity is the leading cause of neonatal death.

On World Prematurity Day, we remember the tiniest members of our families and communities. We also recommit to doing everything we can to protect them.

premature baby in NICU

World Prematurity Day

Many parents do not fully understand the increased risks that accompany a baby born prematurely. They often face weeks or months in the NICU and could have serious lasting medical conditions.

Underdeveloped organs and immature immune systems make babies born prior to 37 weeks more prone to infections from common illnesses. A cold, the flu or RSV can be detrimental to a preemie… even fatal.



With under-developed lungs, premature babies are more likely to develop infections have life threatening respiratory problems.

One particular virus that can wreck havoc on a preemies lungs is respiratory syncytial virus, more widely known as RSV.

Although RSV is commonly attracted by all children under the age of 2, it typically presents itself with symptoms similar to the common cold. With preemies, the risk is increased due to their underdeveloped lungs.

They simply do not have the antibodies they need to fight off the infection. This can quickly lead to more serious symptoms, including a critical respiratory infection.

RSV is spread through contact with respiratory secretions, like saliva, mucus, or nose discharge, from an infected person. It can also be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, like doorknobs, toys, or countertops.

RSV Facts to Know

  • RSV is the leading cause of infant hospitalization, and severe RSV disease causes up to 10 times as many infant deaths each year as the flu.
  • RSV is most prevalent during the winter months. The CDC has defined the “RSV season” as beginning in November and lasting through March for most parts of North America.
  • In addition to prematurity, common risk factors include low birth weight, certain lung or heart diseases, a family history of asthma and frequent contact with other children.

Prematurity and RSV in the U.S. Hispanic Community

  • The current rate of preterm births in the U.S. Hispanic community is 11.66 percent. Since 2006, the preterm rate has declined 5 percent for Hispanic infants.
  • Data indicates that infants from U.S. Hispanic communities are at increased risk to develop severe RSV disease; while the exact reason for the increased risk is unknown, the increased prematurity rate is likely a contributing factor.
  • 2/3 of U.S. Hispanic mothers have never heard of RSV, and one in five U.S. Hispanic moms only becomes aware of RSV once their child has contracted the virus.

Steps to Prevent RSV

So what are the steps to prevent RSV? Well, because RSV is highly contagious, it can spread quickly and easily through touching, coughing, and sneezing.

There is no treatment for RSV since it is viral, so you should take preventative steps to protect your child.

Make sure to thoroughly wash hands, as well as toys, bedding, and play areas often— especially during those key months indicated above.

Ask guests to wash their hands when they visit or use hand sanitizer before having any contact with your child.

Avoid being around those who have been or are currently sick, and avoid large crowds.

Never smoke around your baby or let anyone else do so.

If you believe your child is at a high risk for RSV, talk to your doctor about a possible preventative therapy.

Symptoms of RSV

(Contact your pediatrician immediately if your child experiences any of the following symptoms)

  • Severe coughing,  wheezing or rapid gasping breaths
  • Blue color on the lips, mouth, or under the fingernails
  • High fever and extreme fatigue

If you have a baby or young child with RSV, there are things you can do to help them feel better and speed their recovery. Offer plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. A cool-mist humidifier can also help relieve symptoms.

Most babies and young children who get RSV will recover in a week or two. But some, especially those born prematurely, may have a more severe illness and may need to be hospitalized.

We can all help protect preemies and other vulnerable babies from RSV. By practicing good hygiene and being aware of the signs and symptoms of RSV, we can help create a healthier world for all our little ones.