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‘Terrifying’ and ‘super scary’: B.C. parents on infant respiratory illness during COVID-19

Click to play video: 'Families impacted by worsening respiratory illness season in B.C.' Families impacted by worsening respiratory illness season in B.C.
We're learning more tonight about why respiratory illnesses are hitting earlier, and harder than in years past in this province. Kamil Karamali has more on what some experts are saying, and how these illnesses have turned some families lives upside down – Oct 21, 2021

Mother-of-two Jasmine Barahona says it’s scary to have a child with respiratory illness at the best of times, but it’s even more terrifying during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Her nine-month-old son Logan was born premature and has respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which has him coughing, wheezing and restless around the clock.

“It’s terrifying because there’s a risk with him being a preemie, of being on oxygen, there’s a risk of his lungs collapsing because he’s so little,” she said.

“I don’t bring him out, I’m scared. I don’t really see family because I’m scared he’s just going to end up in the hospital.”

Read more: BC Children’s Hospital reports spike in respiratory infections among kids

Respiratory syncytial virus has the same symptoms as a cold and is very common and contagious, but can cause complications in children who are born premature, or have other medical vulnerabilities.

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Barahona said she and Logan have visited the hospital more than a dozen times in the past two months. He’s been tested for COVID-19, has an inhaler, and will likely have asthma for the rest of his life.

“It hit us like a truck,” she told Global News. “My first (son) has built a lot of immunity but my little one has not, so I’m constantly having to worry, clean the house, clean their hands.”

Click to play video: 'BC Children’s Hospital seeing more patients with respiratory viruses' BC Children’s Hospital seeing more patients with respiratory viruses
BC Children’s Hospital seeing more patients with respiratory viruses – Oct 20, 2021

This week, BC Children’s Hospital reported a spike in RSV cases, and due to similar symptoms of COVID-19, an increase in testing for that virus as well.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has also recorded increased rates for respiratory illness that have passed the historical average since mid-August, and continue to climb.

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Stories like Barahona’s are becoming more common, causing distress for parents and their children.

“These are kids who don’t normally have it hitting them, hitting them this early or even just hitting them,” said Vancouver family physician Dr. Anna Wolak.

“They’re usually able to run around with cough, cold, running nose, so it is hitting them harder than they’re used to.”

Read more: Nearly 1 in 25 British Columbians have caught COVID-19 since pandemic started

Last winter, there were no reported RSV cases in B.C.

Health experts believe that, combined with COVID-19 health measures like masking and handwashing, contributed to a lack of immunity to respiratory illnesses this season.

It’s especially difficult for women who were pregnant during the pandemic, added Wolak, since they weren’t out and about as often, and exposed to circulating viruses.

“The level of immunity or level of antibodies to protect the babies are lower,” she explained.

Click to play video: 'More than 5.500 B.C. health care workers unvaccinated' More than 5.500 B.C. health care workers unvaccinated
More than 5.500 B.C. health care workers unvaccinated – Oct 20, 2021

Kamloops, B.C. resident Amanda Clarke said virtually all of her friends’ kids have some kind of virus this year, including her own two-year-old son, Arthur.

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“Until this week, he’s never had a cold or anything,” she said. “Then we put him to bed Monday night, he woke up after about an hour and had a fever of almost 106 degrees, and was having trouble breathing.”

Arthur was diagnosed with croup, a common ailment in children most often caused by a parainfluenza virus. Clark said it was “super scary,” but he’s on the mend.

Public health officials are urging parents to get the COVID-19 and flu vaccines, and immunize their children, if eligible.

They’re also encouraging parents to ensure that their children’s routine immunizations are up to date.

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