Kate Jenni can joke about it now. 

But earlier this week life was a little scary. Her newborn baby, just three weeks old, was having trouble breathing. Jenni and her husband, Scott Jenni, decided to rush the baby boy to the emergency room in Lewistown. 

"It's a little terrifying, it turns out, to be a parent," Kate Jenni said with a laugh. She and Scott are first-time parents. 

Liam, their son, was diagnosed with RSV and rushed to Billings. RSV, the abbreviated name for respiratory syncytial virus, is an illness that infects the lungs and respiratory tract. It's especially dangerous for infants, who are particularly susceptible to the virus.

Newborns and infants are still developing and strengthening their respiratory systems during that first year of life. RSV gums up the lungs and airway, and it can dangerously impact an infant's ability to breathe and get needed oxygen.

"Kids less than 2 months struggle the worst with it," said Menard Barruga, a pediatric intensivist doctor at St. Vincent Healthcare. 

Cases of RSV in the area are up this winter. St. Vincent Healthcare treated 40 cases alone in February. Billings Clinic saw 26 cases in February and has treated five more so far in March. 

"This year has been particularly heavy," Barruga said. 

St. Vincent tends to see more RSV cases because the hospital has a dedicated pediatric intensive care unit. 

Part of what makes RSV troublesome is that it can be hard to spot; it looks a lot like a cold.  

The Jennis attest to that. Going into the weekend last week, Liam started sneezing and sounded a little congested, Scott Jenni said. 

"It seemed like he had a little cold," Kate Jenni added. 

By Sunday he was struggling to breathe, so they packed Liam up and headed to the emergency room. They figured it was probably no big deal, but they're still new parents and didn't want to take any chances. 

In the emergency room, staff acted quickly, diagnosing the virus and hooking Liam up to monitors and oxygen. 

"It kind of startled everybody," Scott Jenni said. 

They learned Liam would need intensive care and so they were rushed down to St. Vincent. 

"We didn't get much sleep that first night," Scott Jenni said. 

Barruga said it's important for parents of young children to monitor closely cold-like symptoms. If the child appears to have labored breathing with the other symptoms, it's best to take them to a doctor. 

Newborns and infants typically get sick about once a month as their immune systems develop resistance to common bugs and viruses, Barruga said. 

"It's just part of growing up," he said. 

The danger comes when an infant contracts something like RSV, which is why it's important for parents to be vigilant, he said. 

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for the Billings Gazette.