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West Fargo girl's bout with RSV offers cautionary tale for parents

Respiratory syncytial virus, which continues spreading in the area, can cause serious breathing difficulties in very young children with tiny airways that can become obstructed.

A baby smiles directly at a camera while being held by a smiling woman. A man smiles up at them from a couch in the background.
Ashley Lacey with daughter Charlotte and husband Alex spend time together on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, at the family home in West Fargo.
David Samson / The Forum
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WEST FARGO — Sixteen-month-old Charlotte Lacey came down with a runny nose. At first, her mother suspected a cold, but her daughter’s symptoms grew worse, gradually then rapidly.

Charlotte became “super sleepy,” lost her appetite and quit drinking fluids. Most worrisome: her breathing became labored, her belly rising and falling with exertion as she took each breath.

At first, Charlotte felt well enough to play and remained active, but then her symptoms worsened.

“It was really the change in activity levels for me,” said Ashley Lacey, Charlotte’s mother, explaining her increased concern.

Ashley Lacey took Charlotte to the walk-in clinic, where testing determined Charlotte had RSV, a respiratory virus that can cause severe illness in small children.

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Charlotte's oxygen level was low, so she was given a nebulizer treatment and steroids. Even after treatment, her blood-oxygen level remained low.

So, Charlotte was taken to the hospital, where she spent six days, including four or five in pediatric intensive care at Sanford Medical Center. She was given oxygen and intravenous fluids to treat her dehydration.

“It was honestly hard to see your daughter go through that,” said Alex Lacey, Charlotte’s father.

Charlotte’s case is an example of how very young children, who have small airways that are easily obstructed, are susceptible to severe cases of RSV, which stands for respiratory syncytial virus.

Positivity rates for the virus have declined recently from high levels, said Dr. Jacob Fish, a pediatrician and medical officer at the children’s hospital at Sanford Medical Center.

“We’ve definitely been busy with RSV and seeing high numbers for this time of year,” he said. “We’ve been very busy in our hospital.”

Cases of RSV spiked unusually early in October. That spike has subsided, but cases remain higher than normal for this time of year, he said.

“Obviously, with the holidays, we’re worrying about another uplift,” Fish said.

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Dr. Jacob .jpg
Dr. Jacob Fish, pediatrician and medical officer for Sanford Children's Hospital, Fargo.
Submitted photo

RSV can be especially severe among infants who are less than six months old, the child age group most likely to require hospital treatment because of their tiny airways, he said.

“That’s where they get into trouble with their airways,” which can become clogged with mucus, Fish said.

It’s common for children with RSV to become dehydrated, which can worsen their condition. “That’s kind of a perfect storm,” Fish said. Less than 4% of children with RSV are so sick that they have to be hospitalized, he said.

Parents with a child who has a respiratory infection and symptoms of difficulty breathing, including a faster respiration rate and belly rising while breathing, should take the child to a walk-in clinic, Fish said.

“Have your child be seen,” he said. A physician can tell parents what to expect and what they should do.

Children with asthma or other respiratory conditions also are at greater risk.

Ashley Lacey suspects Charlotte contracted the virus at day care, where two other children tested positive for RSV. It’s also possible that the mother, who works as a pediatric nurse, brought the virus home with her.

“It’s definitely everywhere,” she said of the virus, which primarily spreads through droplets when a person coughs or sneezes.

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After Charlotte's six-day hospital stay, Nov. 4 through 10, she is now home and back to normal.

“Now she’s running around like a crazy lady,” Ashley Lacey said. “She is a very spunky, spirited little gal.”

To prevent RSV, the North Dakota Department of Health recommends the following:

  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Avoid taking your baby into large crowds.
  • Don’t smoke around your baby (or at all).
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching face with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and sanitize surfaces frequently, including toys.
  • If possible, limit the time babies spend in child care centers or other potentially contagious settings.
  • Stay up to date on routine immunizations, including influenza vaccine, to prevent illness and hospitalization due to other diseases.
Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
Phone: 701-367-5294
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