Hannah Brand said her daughter Paitynn was just 2 months old when she got what looked like a cold.
Over the course of several days, Brand said that Paitynn was getting worse and having trouble breathing.
“When she breathed, she gasped and you could tell she was almost sweating,” Brand, a mother of three, told “Good Morning America.” “She worked so hard to catch her breath.”
Brand said seeing her daughter struggling to breathe was a “red flag” that she needed to be seen by a pediatrician.
“A huge alarm for me was the sagging of the skin around her ribs, called retractions, and for children, especially in a 2-month-old, retraction is a huge sign of increased respiratory work,” Brand said. “So that was a big, big indicator that something is wrong here, that this is 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 for infants.
In Brand’s case, her daughter was admitted to a local hospital and then flown to the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, more than 100 miles from the family’s birthplace.
“I’m used to seeing this every day in other kids, but when it comes down to it it was my daughter who experienced this, it was almost like my nurse brain went out the window and the mother brain was 100% and it was very terrifying,” says Brand. “Knowing what to look for and how to intervene if needed was a huge advantage, but at that point I was 100% mother mode and I was very terrified.”
In the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit, Brand said she saw what many hospitals across the country are going through: an overabundance 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 have told ABC News they are in love with a higher-than-expected number of other pediatric infections than COVID-19.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the capacity of pediatric beds nationally is the highest in two years, with 75% of the estimated 40,000 beds filled.
“The room where we were sitting was completely full,” says Brand. “There was a child in every room.”
Brand said she thinks her family is “one of the lucky ones” because Paitynn responded quickly to treatment.
She was given oxygen into the nose to help her breathe and was put under light sedation, which allowed her to rest and improve, Brand said.
“Once she started that light sedation, she was able to sleep and we noticed right away on her monitors that her oxygen was improving, her heart rate was improving,” she said. “While she would sleep, her body slowly recovered.”
Paitynn was released from the hospital after just two days and, according to Brand, has continued to improve.
Today, a month after being hospitalized, Brand said that Paitynn experiences an occasional coughing fit but is otherwise “back to her old, happy self.”
“We still monitor her pediatrician very closely just because the risk that she might later develop childhood asthma, reactive respiratory disease, things like that might be a little bit more after they’ve had an RSV diagnosis,” Merk said. “We just had to keep an extra close eye on her.”
Brand said keeping a close eye on Paitynn included keeping the child away from crowds and asking friends and relatives not to touch or kiss her unnecessarily.
She said her advice to other parents and carers concerned about RSV is to “trust their gut” and seek medical attention.
“If for any reason you have doubts about your child’s condition or you just don’t feel comfortable with how they look, trust your gut,” Brand said. “Please take them inside to be seen. If you think you’re not comfortable with something, trust that instinct and get help.’
What parents need to know about RSV
RSV is a contagious virus that can spread through virus 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 from touching surfaces, such as tables, doorknobs and crib rails, that contain the virus and 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 babies can continue to spread the virus for as long as four weeks, even after they no longer show symptoms, according to the CDC.
In children, premature infants and young children with weakened immune systems or congenital heart or chronic lung disease are most vulnerable to complications from RSV.
“Virtually all kids have got RSV at least once by the time they turn 2, but it’s really younger kids, especially those under 6 months old, who can really have problems with RSV and sometimes end up in the hospital,” says Dr. William Linam, pediatric infectious disease physician at Atlanta Children’s Hospital, told ABC News last year. “That’s where we want to get the word out, for families with young children or children with medical conditions, make sure they’re aware that this is going on.”
In the first two to four days after contracting RSV, a child may show symptoms such as fever, runny nose and congestion.
Later, symptoms can escalate to coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
Parents should also be warned about symptoms such as dehydration and not eating, according to Linam.
“Not getting a wet diaper in more than eight hours is often a good indication that a child is dehydrated and a good reason to seek medical attention,” he said. “Sometimes children under 6 months can pause when breathing, and that’s something to get medical attention right away.”
Babies and toddlers can usually recover from RSV at home unless they develop breathing problems, are unable to eat or drink, or seem more tired than usual. In that case, parents should contact their pediatrician and/or take their child to the emergency room.
Home care for children with RSV may include Tylenol and Motrin for a fever, 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 keep your distance, Linam said.
Infants who are either born prematurely (less than 35 weeks) or born with chronic lung disease may benefit from a drug to prevent complications from RSV, as they are at increased risk for serious illness. Parents should discuss this with their pediatrician.
ABC News’ Courtney Wilson and Sasha Pezenik contributed to this report.