Mikala Watkins has yet to bring her infant daughter home.
Shortly after Sophie was born, she developed respiratory syncytial virus, more commonly known as RSV.
RSV is a common respiratory illness that can develop into a more serious illness in young babies.
After seeing Sophie suffer from RSV, Watkins is on a mission to educate parents about how to spot it in their children.
“Say I was a new mom, and I didn't know anything about it, and I would just think, ‘Oh, she has a stuffy nose, she will get rid of it,'” Watkins said. “You could lose your child over this.”
The virus leads to mild, cold-like symptoms in adults and older healthy children, according to the National Institutes of Health. It can be more serious in young babies, especially those in certain high-risk groups, according to the agency.
Infections often occur in epidemics that last from late fall through early spring, according to OU Medical Center. In Oklahoma, January to February is the heart of RSV season, according to the center.
Since September, OU Medical Center has seen about 440 cases. Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City, which doesn't see a lot of pediatric cases, has seen seven cases of RSV since August 2012. None of the patients were admitted to the hospital.
Integris has seen about 130 cases since July, which is a little higher than normal but not an alarming rate, a hospital spokesman said. Of the 110 patients tested for RSV at St. Anthony Hospital, 23 tested positive.
An ongoing ordeal
Sophie Watkins was born Dec. 20. It was about Christmas, and Mikala Watkins was staying with family for the holiday.
Watkins said her daughter seemed like she had a cold, but it soon got worse. On New Year's Eve, she took her to the emergency room. Within minutes, the staff decided to admit Sophie, and she was in the hospital for about 13 days.
The day she got out, Watkins learned that her 7-year-old son had the flu, meaning Sophie couldn't be around him. The family has been living with various relatives until everyone is better.
Watkins is looking forward to getting home and back on a routine.
Dr. Robert Welliver moved to Oklahoma about two years ago to work on either a vaccine or a specific medicine for RSV.
Welliver, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with OU Children's Physicians, said RSV is serious in young babies because their lungs aren't finished developing. Babies have small lungs, and RSV is an airway disease, he said.
“Where you breathe is through the air sacs that are called the alveoli, and you have a lot of those when you're born, but you don't have nearly as many when you're born as you do when you get a few years older,” Welliver said. “Lungs are really not as mature as the rest of the body is when you're born.”
There's some discussion about the long-term impact RSV has on a child, Welliver said.
About 40 percent of infants who have RSV will have wheezing when they're school age, he said. There's some discussion about children with RSV who develop emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease later in life, but there's not as much research on that, he said.
“The question has been — were these guys children who were born with abnormal lungs in the first place, and RSV is just the first indication that something is wrong, or does RSV actually damage the lungs?” Welliver said. “It's a question that hasn't been answered yet.”