Congenital Heart Disease and Winter Illnesses

As we continue to experience the wonderful “arctic freeze” that is Dallas/Fort Worth, everyone is hearing of the dreaded flu outbreak that is coursing across the entire nation.  As you read this article, physicians like us at PHS are getting emails about hospitals “at capacity”, and “on divert” because of so many affected by respiratory illnesses.  So, it naturally leads to the question – how do illnesses like the flu and RSV affect our patients with congenital heart disease?

Well, the answer is simple – it’s the same….kind of!   Infants and young children, regardless of having any type of heart defect, can often have more severe courses of the flu, RSV, and other respiratory illnesses.  This is mostly due to the relatively underdeveloped immune system as compared to an adult.  Incidentally, the same is true for senior citizens as well. 

What happens when you add congenital heart defects to the picture?  Well, with very minor defects such as small atrial or ventricular septal defects, there is not much difference, and you can expect these young children to have the regular course, involving tissues, suctioning, and lots of chicken soup!  With more complex defects, however, this can become more serious.  The extra work on the heart (and lungs) can often cause prolonged and more serious symptoms; in fact, a child who requires surgery may have to delay the procedure as long as six weeks to allow his/her body to heal from the respiratory illness.

What does all this mean?  Well, in short, wash your hands, and cover your sneeze!  No matter if your child has heart disease or not, the flu and RSV can cause more than just sniffles.  But basic prevention and cleanliness can go a long way in making all of us healthy and less susceptible! 

Have a great day!

Dr. Verma

Posted by Dr. Penn Laird Jr. .