Hannah Brand said her daughter Paitynn was just 2 months old when she developed what appeared to be a cold.
Over the course of several days, Brand said Paitynn gradually got worse and started having difficulty breathing.
“When she was breathing, she was panting and you could tell she was almost sweating,” Brand, a mother of three, told “Good Morning America.” “She was working so hard to catch her breath.”
Brand said watching her daughter struggle to breathe was a “red flag” she needed to see a pediatrician.
“A big scare for me was the sinking of the skin around his ribs, called retractions, and for children, especially a 2 month old, retractions are a huge sign of increased work of breathing,” Brand said. “So that was a big, big indicator that something is wrong here, that it’s more than just a cold.”
Brand said a pediatrician diagnosed her daughter with RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, which usually causes mild cold-like symptoms but can become severe, especially in infants.
In Brand’s case, her daughter was admitted to a local hospital and then airlifted to Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, more than 100 miles from the family’s hometown.
“I’m used to seeing this every day in other kids but in the end it was my daughter experiencing it, it was almost like my nurse brain popped out out the window and it was 100% mama’s brain and it was very terrifying,” Brand said. “It was a huge plus to know what to look for and how to intervene when needed, but at the time I was 100 per cent in mum mode and very terrified.”
In the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit, Brand said he saw what many hospitals across the country are experiencing — an overflow of pediatric patients.
Hospitals in more than two dozen states — including Rhode Island, Washington, Colorado, Texas, Ohio, Louisiana, New Jersey and Massachusetts — and the District of Columbia told ABC News that they felt a crush on a higher than expected rate of some pediatric infections other than COVID-19.
Nationally, pediatric bed capacity is the highest in two years, with 75% of an estimated 40,000 beds occupied, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
“The room we were in was completely full,” Brand said. “Each room had a child in it.”
Brand said she considers her family “one of the lucky ones” because Paitynn responded quickly to treatment.
She was put on nasal oxygen to help her breathe and was placed under light sedation, which allowed her to rest and improve, according to Brand.
“Once she started this light sedation, she was able to sleep and we immediately noticed on her monitors, her oxygen improved, her heart rate improved,” she said. “As she slept, her body was slowly recovering.”
Paitynn was released from the hospital after just two days and continued to improve, according to Brand.
Today, a month after being hospitalized, Brand said Paitynn has occasional coughing fits but is otherwise ‘back to her old happy self’.
“We’re still following her pediatrician very closely just because the risk of her later possibly developing childhood asthma, a reactive airway disease, that sort of thing may be a bit higher after she’s had a diagnosis of RSV,” Marque said. “We just had to keep a very close eye on her.”
Brand said Paitynn’s close supervision included keeping the baby away from crowds and asking friends and family members not to touch or kiss her unnecessarily.
She said her advice to other parents and carers worried about RSV is to “trust your instincts” and seek medical help.
“If for any reason you’re wondering about your child’s condition or just not comfortable with their appearance, trust your instincts,” Brand said. “Please take them out to be seen. If you think you’re uncomfortable with something, trust that instinct and ask them for help.”
What parents need to know about RSV
RSV is a contagious virus that can be spread from viral droplets transmitted by coughing or sneezing from an infected person; through direct contact with the virus, such as kissing the face of a child with RSV; and touching surfaces, like tables, doorknobs and crib rails, that contain the virus, then touching your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands, according to the CDC.
People infected with RSV are usually contagious for three to eight days, but some infants can continue to spread the virus even after they stop showing symptoms, for up to four weeks, according to the CDC.
Among children, premature infants and toddlers with weakened immune systems or who have congenital heart disease or chronic lung disease are most vulnerable to RSV complications.
“Almost all children have had RSV at least once by the time they turn 2 years old, but it’s really the younger ones, especially those under 6 months old, who can really have trouble with RSV. RSV and sometimes end up in the hospital,” Dr. William Linam, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Children’s Hospital Atlanta, told ABC News last year. “This is where we want to spread the word, for families with young children or children with health conditions, making sure they are aware of what is going on.”
During the first two to four days after contracting RSV, a child may experience symptoms such as fever, runny nose, and congestion.
Later, symptoms can escalate into coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
Parents should also be alerted to symptoms, including dehydration and not eating, according to Linam.
“Not wetting a diaper for more than eight hours is often a good sign that a child is dehydrated and a good reason to see a doctor,” he said. “Sometimes children under 6 months old may have pauses in their breathing, and this is something to seek immediate medical attention.”
Infants and toddlers can usually recover at home with RSV unless they begin to have difficulty breathing, cannot eat or drink, or seem more tired than usual , in which case parents should contact their pediatrician and/or take their child to the emergency room.
Home care for children with RSV can include Tylenol and Motrin for fevers, as well as making sure the child is hydrated and eating.
Parents can help protect their children from RSV by continuing to follow the three Ws of the pandemic as much as possible: wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance, according to Linam.
Infants born prematurely (less than 35 weeks) or born with chronic lung disease may benefit from medication to prevent RSV complications since they are at increased risk of severe disease. Parents should discuss this with their pediatrician.
ABC News’ Courtney Wilson and Sasha Pezenik contributed to this report.