Many different viruses and bacteria spread during the winter months. These include influenza, COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and lesser-known germs. They can also cause pneumonia or other complications, leading to hospitalization or death in vulnerable populations.
Babies and older adults are especially susceptible to respiratory infections from viruses. RSV is the leading cause of hospitalizations for infants in the United States. So, knowing how to prevent RSV in babies and reduce the spread of other respiratory illnesses is important.
The following can help prevent RSV in babies and reduce the risk of getting sick or making others sick:
- Avoid people who are coughing, sneezing, sniffling, or showing symptoms of illness.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.
- Get the RSV vaccine for pregnancy if you’re pregnant or get your newborn immunized against RSV if you just gave birth.
- Get the RSV vaccine if you’re over 60.
- Get your seasonal flu vaccine.
- Get your updated COVID-19 vaccine.
- Protect qualifying children 19 months or younger against RSV with nirsevimab-alip.
- Stay home and avoid other people if you’re sick or wear a mask if you can’t do this.
- Wash your hands regularly, especially before and after eating.
- Wear a mask to reduce germ exposure risk.
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Have Conversations with Others
If getting sick concerns you or your loved ones, talk with friends, family, and other visitors before gatherings. If you know how to prevent RSV in babies and the spread of other respiratory illnesses, you can help others do so as well.
The steps below can reduce the chances of people feeling uncomfortable or surprised by your requests. Respecting others’ boundaries and asking them to respect yours can show you care about each other.
Don’t wait until the last minute to have these conversations with others. You can schedule a time to speak with them or call them when they’re not busy. If they seem stressed or worried about something else, talk with them another time.
How far ahead you should plan depends on your boundaries. There are several things they can do to help prevent RSV in babies and prevent the spread of other respiratory diseases. If you only want to ask them not to kiss your baby, a few days is probably enough for your request.
If you want them to test for COVID or wear a mask, they may need more time. Or, you can provide a test ahead of time or masks when they arrive. If you ask them to get certain vaccines, they may need a few weeks’ notice.
Begin with what’s important
Let them know you care about them and about keeping others in your life as healthy as possible. If there are specific people you want to protect, mention them.
Consider the following ways to start:
- “I’m really looking forward to seeing you next week. Because our baby is so young, I wanted to tell you that we’re trying to protect her from getting sick. Knowing how to prevent RSV in babies can help us protect her.”
- “I’m so glad everyone will get to see Grandpa this holiday. There are things we can all do to protect him from getting sick.”
- “My partner and I are excited to see you, and we wanted to remind you that they have a weak immune system. We’re taking some extra steps to make sure they stay healthy this winter.”
Consider your boundaries ahead of time
You know your friends and family best. Everyone should feel comfortable with certain boundaries. But others might make people uncomfortable.
Decide ahead of time which boundaries are firm and which aren’t. For example, you might refuse to pass your newborn from one person to another. You might also ask people to wear masks but understand those who choose not to.
In some cases, you might have to stay firm even if people don’t want to do what you ask. For example, if someone has a very high risk for severe disease, optional masking may make you uncomfortable. In those cases, you’ll need to clarify that people who don’t wear a mask must stay home.
Below are different types of boundaries you may or may not want to consider:
- Asking people who are sick to stay home.
- Asking visitors to bump fists instead of hugging and kissing.
- Asking visitors to get vaccinated against flu, COVID, or RSV.
- Asking visitors to take a COVID test a day or a few hours before getting together.
- Asking visitors to wear masks indoors.
- Asking visitors not to expect kisses from your children.
- Asking visitors not to kiss your baby or pass them around.
- Asking visitors not to share food with your children.
Remind them you care
After you explain your boundaries, remind them why they’re important. You care about them and getting to see them, and you care about your loved ones staying as healthy as possible. Let them know that respecting these boundaries shows how much they care about your and your family’s health too.
Plan for reminders at your gathering
When you see others, some may forget what you discussed. Or, they may not realize they’re crossing a boundary. You may have to remind them you’re trying to prevent RSV and keep others healthy too.
For example, they might reach for your baby out of habit or excitement. Or, they might show up coughing and sniffling after you’ve asked sick people to stay home. They might think they just have a cold when it’s really a mild but more dangerous case of flu.
Have a plan for each possibility. Here are some examples:
- If they reach for your baby, smile and ask them if they want to take a photo of your baby. Then remind them that you don’t want to pass your baby to others. Let them know that reducing your baby’s contact with others can help prevent them from getting RSV.
- If they show up and have symptoms, gently let them know that you want to protect others from getting sick. Plan whether you’ll ask them to wear a mask or make plans to visit another time.
- If you want all visitors to wear masks, have plenty of masks for those who don’t bring one. Consider hanging a friendly sign on the door to remind visitors to wear masks.
Some visitors may not respect your boundaries, so decide ahead of time how much risk you’ll accept in those cases. After all, you set boundaries to keep you and your loved ones healthy.
COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
Mina Suh, Naimisha Movva, Xiaohui Jiang, et al. Respiratory Syncytial Virus Is the Leading Cause of United States Infant Hospitalizations, 2009–2019: A Study of the National (Nationwide) Inpatient Sample. The Journal of Infectious Diseases. August 2022. Link
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). Getting Your COVID-19 Vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). Healthy Habits to Help Protect Against Flu. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). RSV Immunization for Children 19 months and Younger. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). RSV Vaccination for Older Adults 60 Years of Age and Over. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). RSV Vaccination for Pregnant People. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). This Flu Season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). Who Needs a Flu Vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.