Last week, my mom called me to tell me she was admitted to the hospital for what started as a simple cold. I was shocked to hear that they needed her to stay overnight for two whole days so that they could monitor her symptoms and administer fluids through an IV. I was expecting to find out that she had something serious such as the flu or pneumonia, but we were all surprised to hear that the infection was simply RSV or respiratory syncytial virus. While my mom could barely get out of bed her fever was so high, many children get RSV and think nothing of it. In fact, she got it from her 10-year-old stepson who merely had a slight cough at the time. As it turns out, my mom was so susceptible because she is immune-suppressed.

About seven years ago, my mom received a kidney transplant. To make sure her body doesn’t reject the new organ, she takes medicine that essentially turns off the better part of her immune system to prevent the white blood cells from attacking and killing the innocent organ. When she picked up RSV from her stepson, it hit her like a ton of bricks.

You might be wondering what this has to do with your pregnancy. It’s important to remember that when you’re pregnant, your immune system is compromised. Your body will be working overtime to nourish and protect your growing baby, so it won’t be able to spend its usual resources on fighting colds and infections. If you come into contact with any germs while pregnant, there is a higher chance you’ll fall victim to the infection. Staying healthy is especially important during your pregnancy, which makes this a risky situation.

RSV is highly contagious, and it can be passed on with a simple peck or even airborne cough or sneeze particles. If you’re pregnant, the best way to avoid getting RSV is to avoid contact with kids in preschool or grade school, as these environments are breeding grounds. Symptoms are flu-like and include fever, cough, congestion, and shortness of breath. As in the case with my mom, you might spend time with a child who has nothing but a stuffy nose and then find out a day later that you are absolutely crippled with the illness. If you spend time around young kids, don’t get too close.

Source: Alba Munoz-Suano et al: Gimme Shelter: The Immune System During Pregnancy. Immunological Reviews Volume 241 Issue 1 pp. 20-38 May 2011

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