Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common respiratory infection that can have severe consequences for infants and young children. It can cause wheezing, difficulty breathing, and even lead to hospitalizations and death. In older adults, RSV can also result in severe illness. In 2019, approximately 6.6 million infants globally experienced RSV-associated acute lower respiratory infections, with 1.4 million requiring hospitalization and 45,700 resulting in overall deaths attributed to RSV. To gain insights into how to protect infants and young children from severe illness due to RSV, Medical News Today interviewed pediatricians.
Dr. Danelle Fisher explained that RSV affects infants and young children differently than older individuals. Infants are at a higher risk of developing severe respiratory issues, including wheezing and difficulty breathing. Certain groups, such as premature infants and those with underlying health conditions, are at an elevated risk of complications and hospitalization.
RSV spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, as well as through contaminated surfaces. Babies can contract RSV through direct contact, such as when an infected person kisses them on the face, or by touching contaminated toys or surfaces and subsequently touching their eyes, mouth, or nose. RSV spreads rapidly in places where children gather, and older siblings who attend preschool or daycare can bring the virus home.
If an infant contracts RSV, the treatment may vary depending on the symptoms. Babies may require intravenous fluids if they become dehydrated. Saline and nasal suction may be used to alleviate congestion, and medication may be necessary to manage fevers. Severe respiratory problems may require oxygen and breathing support. Antibiotics are not effective against RSV since it is a viral infection.
Preventing the spread of RSV is crucial in protecting infants and young children. Measures such as hand hygiene, disinfection of surfaces and toys, covering coughs and sneezes, and avoiding contact with sick individuals can help reduce transmission. Parents should keep their babies away from individuals with cold and flu symptoms and avoid crowded places during RSV season.
In addition to these preventive measures, the maternal RSV vaccine can provide protection against severe illness. The vaccine is administered during pregnancy between 32 to 36 weeks of gestation and allows the antibodies produced by the vaccine to be passed on to the baby, significantly reducing the risk of severe disease and hospitalization from RSV. For those unable to receive the vaccine, there is an option to immunize the baby after birth using a monoclonal antibody shot called nirsevimab.
In conclusion, RSV can have severe consequences for infants and young children, making it crucial to take preventive measures and consider vaccination. Good hand hygiene, disinfection of surfaces, and avoiding contact with sick individuals can help reduce the spread of RSV. Pregnant individuals should discuss the maternal RSV vaccine with their healthcare providers, and for those unable to receive the vaccine, nirsevimab can be given to infants during the RSV season to provide passive protection. It is important to consult with healthcare providers to determine the best course of action in protecting infants and young children from RSV.