RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is a viral infection that is often mistaken for a common cold. However, in infants and the elderly, it can be very serious, leading to hospitalization. Symptoms include fast breathing, chest abnormalities, and wheezing. RSV can make it difficult for babies to breathe and feed, which are essential for their health.
Despite its prevalence, RSV is not widely known. It is estimated that each year, 64 million people worldwide contract RSV, resulting in 160,000 deaths. It is the leading cause of lower respiratory tract infections in young children, causing 13,000 deaths in infants under six months and 101,000 deaths before the age of five. In the UK alone, 33,500 children under five are hospitalized with RSV each year, and it causes 20 to 30 deaths.
Preventing RSV is challenging because it spreads easily through coughing, sneezing, and contaminated surfaces. Furthermore, the majority of hospitalizations occur in healthy babies. Until recently, there were limited scientific tools available to prevent RSV-related illnesses in infants.
In the past two years, significant advancements have been made in reducing RSV-related illness and mortality. Firstly, a new monoclonal antibody drug called nirsevimab has been approved in the UK and US. Clinical trials have shown that nirsevimab is 77% effective in preventing RSV hospitalizations and cases requiring medical intervention. Infants who received a single dose of nirsevimab had an 83% reduction in hospital admissions compared to those who received standard care. As a result, the US Centers for Disease Control now recommends nirsevimab for all infants under eight months old during the RSV season.
Secondly, a vaccine for RSV has been approved for pregnant women in the US and UK. The vaccine is about 82% effective in preventing severe disease in infants within the first three months after birth. It works by providing the mother with RSV antibodies that are passed to the fetus during pregnancy, protecting the baby while their own immune system develops.
Integrating these treatments into healthcare systems, such as the NHS, poses challenges, mainly due to the high cost of the interventions. The negotiations with pharmaceutical companies are necessary to make these remedies accessible to the public. Currently, Galicia in Spain has become the first region to include nirsevimab in its immunization program, and other countries, including France, are planning similar rollouts.
The availability of these new tools brings hope in the fight against RSV. Implementing these interventions effectively could significantly reduce RSV-related hospitalizations and improve public health outcomes. As we navigate the challenges, the scientific advancements offer new opportunities to protect vulnerable infants and minimize the burden on healthcare systems.
– RSV: Respiratory syncytial virus, a viral infection that can cause severe respiratory symptoms in infants and older adults.
– Monoclonal antibody: A laboratory-produced antibody that can target specific antigens in the body.
– NHS: National Health Service, the healthcare system in the United Kingdom.
– Prof. Devi Sridhar, “The new tools in the fight against RSV: monoclonal antibody and maternal vaccine”, The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/dec/15/rsv-infection-babies-hospital-university-edinburgh)