What is Your Baby Breathing?
You follow all the latest trends in baby-proofing and baby-safety. You read all the latest articles on what is healthy and what’s not for your little one. You painstakingly go through the list of ingredients on baby formula and baby food. You bought the top-of-the-line car sear or stroller. The health and safety of your baby is your utmost concern (as with any conscientious parent). But what if I told you that the health of your child is at the mercy of the very air she breathes? It’s not an abstract thought, these days. With all the studies and stories told about our foods and way of living, it’s easy to feel lost in all the information, or mis-information. Children get sick, surely. However, there are more illnesses, disease, and cancers to date than ever before. If you’ve ever had a child who’s fallen ill to some kind of respiratory ailment, then the culprit was likely RSV.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or “RSV,” is a nasty virus responsible for the greater amount of children’s upper and lower respiratory illnesses. This ranges from your common cold-like symptoms, to more concerning upper and lower respiratory infections. Originally isolated in chimpanzees during the year 1956, RSV was identified as a definitive cause of respiratory illnesses in infants, children and elderly some several years later. Today, according to the Center for Disease Control, RSV is the leading cause of bronchiolitis in infants under a year old. While most viruses are merely a product of cross-contamination and direct exposure, this virus has a knack for leveraging its environment.
There’s no doubt that the past ten years have spelled out immense change for every aspect of our world, from smart phones to the push for renewable energy, but with these kinds of changes comes consequences. The amount of pollution in our atmosphere has skyrocketed in the past ten years. Car emissions, oil spills, manufacture byproducts. All causes of a continued worsening problem.
Recent studies have linked certain factors to a surge in RSV cases in infants, mostly depending on your location in the world. PM, or particulate matter (the chemical composition of your air), measures what kind of elements are in the air you breathe, such as carbon and others. While the EPA, doesn’t list what exactly makes up particulate matter, it does give you immediate access to the level of PM in your area for the past decade or so. In the instance of RSV, air pollution has become a proven cause of the illness. Specifically, according to the Oxford Journal, ultra-fine black carbon particles. These particles have been linked to an increase in RSV and pulmonary inflammation.
What does this mean for you? Unfortunately, this is a pervasive issue that stretches the corners of the world. Even for a small, coastal city, Mobile, Alabama, pollution is no stranger. Mobile is part of the CDC’s region four, which also incorporates Atlanta and other south eastern cities who have historically had the highest RSV cases by almost 400 more than any other region in the United States. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina was responsible for an estimated 7 million gallons of oil spilt into the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Coast Guard. You may wonder, what does an oil spill have to do with air quality? The sad fact is that most of the oil spilled into the sea evaporates into our immediate atmosphere, leaving it to be carried onto the beach breezes.
From the years 2005 to 2007, the levels of particulate matter peaked to its highest on record, according to the EPA’s air quality database. With the correlation between the oil spill, particulate matter, and the increase of RSV incidents to the area, it’s not hard to piece together the information.
Ultra-fine carbon particles are also released by diesel engines and tire and break wear, so highly populated areas are more inclined to harbor the virus. It is not only the outside air that should be taken into consideration, but the air inside your own home as well. Studies done in Guatemala several years ago showed a direct correlation between RSV and families who used wood-burning as their primarily source of energy and fuel consumption. While these practices may be outdated in a country such as the United States, many households do have and use fireplaces in their homes as a luxury.
The exact reason as to why the virus correlates so strongly with air pollution is unknown as of now, but you can be certain that these environmental factors mean you no good will. Another factor that contributes to the susceptibility of your child to RSV, surprisingly, is the humidity levels in your area. A study done from 2007 to 2010 shows a direct and startling correlation between humidity, and the occurrence of RSV in the city of Bologna, Italy. Every time the humidity peaked, so did the number of patients admitted to the hospital with RSV-induced respiratory illnesses. Coincidently, RSV is typically a seasonal virus, with winter months being it’s most productive. According to the Center for Disease Control, between the 3rd and the 7th of December 2013 the number of RSV cases in the US nearly doubled, directly correlating with a drop in the temperature.
Now, before you go packing up all the family pictures, call your realtor, and high-tail it out of the city, it’s important to realize that RSV and its correlating illnesses are not typically deadly. The recovery rate for those who contract the virus is typically a couple weeks, with no further complications. While there is not currently a cure, Dr. Sailen Barik of the University of South Alabama is working on a treatment that is in its clinical stage. That means it’s nearly here! So for now, keeping an eye on your little ones, bundle them up for the cold months ahead, and give them plenty of love. That may be a sure-fire cure for the sniffs and sneezes this winter season. And as always, staying well-informed and knowledgeable is the first step to solving any problem, even pollution.
By Hannah Clayton