While we're busy visiting pumpkin patches and apple orchards, picking out Halloween costumes, and preparing for Thanksgiving, it's easy to forget that we've entered cold and flu season.
Many parents and caregivers also forget just how dangerous these illnesses can be for children.
During the 2017-2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a total of 183 pediatric deaths caused by the flu. It is estimated that approximately 80 percent of the deaths were children who did not receive the flu vaccine.
This year, actress and TV host Vanessa Lachey is making sure to remind her fellow parents that these seasonal viruses can have devastating effects on infants and young children.
The 37-year-old mother of three recently opened up about a common but not often talked about viral disease that affects young children - Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
Earlier this year, Vanessa's youngest child, Phoenix, came down with a severe illness that was eventually diagnosed as RSV.
The virus causes infections in the lungs and respiratory tract, and according to the Mayo Clinic, it is "so common that most children have been infected with the virus by age 2."
In healthy children, RSV symptoms mimic the common cold, however, in some can became a very serious infection, especially in premature babies, individuals with weak immune systems, or those with preexisting lung or heart conditions.
Unfortunately for baby Phoenix, he was born prematurely at 30 weeks on December 24, 2016, which meant getting RSV about a year later would have some devastating effects on him.
"His lungs weren't fully developed like a full-term baby. His immune system was immature unlike a full term baby. And so when he got the virus it affected him in a way that led to him getting hospitalized," Vanessa told Fox News.
When Phoenix first started to show signs of sickness, Vanessa was out of the country with her husband Nick Lachey, and their children. They consulted a doctor, but were told that it was just a cold and the symptoms would go away on their own.
"His breathing started becoming rapid. His lips were turning blue. He had this look in his face. He was very lethargic, and there's a wheezing along with a cough," Vanessa recalled. She added, "And I said to my husband, ‘This is not right.’ Everything and my mommy bones are tingling."
The family was able to return home just in the nick of time. Phoenix was rushed to a hospital in an ambulance and his oxygen levels were very low. When he arrived, doctors were able to diagnose him with RSV by performing a nasal swab.
He was then hooked up to a breathing machine and remained in the hospital for six days.
Phoenix has now fully recovered, but not every child is as lucky as he is. Every year, about 75,000 to 125,000 hospitalizations in the U.S. are due to RSV, and globally, it is estimated that the respiratory disease causes 160,000 deaths annually.
Although she admitted that "it never gets easier," Vanessa is still taking the time to warn other parents about RSV during RSV Awareness Month.
"It never gets easier talking about Phoenix when he had RSV, but I’m so glad we are talking about it and starting a conversation. I couldn’t keep it together in this interview. Emotions are a powerful thing. Let’s all become AWARE
#RSVawareness," she tweeted.
It never gets easier talking about Phoenix when he had RSV, but I’m so glad we are talking about it and starting a conversation. I couldn’t keep it together in this interview. Emotions are a powerful thing. Let’s all become AWARE 💙 #RSVawareness https://t.co/rvKrcu860E— Vanessa Lachey (@VanessaLachey) October 26, 2018
The Top Chef Junior host has recently partnered up with AstraZeneca US, a pharmaceutical company, to raise awareness.
“I want everyone to know about RSV, she told Fox. "Ask the questions and if they [doctors] say no and you know something is wrong, then you just have to keep pushing. Honestly, I wish I pushed a little more. I wish I educated myself a little more."
Vanessa's Twitter followers applauded her for sharing her experience so other parents can be aware of the dangers of the cold, flu and RSV season.
"Thank you for promoting awareness for this awful virus," wrote one Twitter user. "You are so well-spoken and a wonderful advocate for children. Here's to HEALTHY kids this upcoming cold/flu/RSV season!"
Since there is no treatment for RSV, one of the main prevention tactics Vanessa has focused on is hand-washing. She recommended washing your hands as well as your child's as thoroughly and as frequently as possible.
Wiping toys down, changing your kid's clothes after they return from school or daycare and putting them in the dryer on medium to high heat will also help prevent RSV.
Most importantly, Vanessa wants every parent "to make time between November and March and educate yourself," so they wouldn't go through what she did while sitting "there in the hospital with her little baby boy hooked up to breathing machines."
For more information, visit rsvprotection.com.