What is RSV?

Oct 12, 2023 | General, Medical Updates

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a virus that causes respiratory illness between the months of October and March. Healthy older children tend to develop only cold symptoms and recover quickly. Infants, however, often develop bronchiolitis, which is an infection of the small airways in the lungs. Bronchiolitis can progress to difficulty breathing and respiratory failure. Infants with chronic lung or heart diseases are at particularly high risk, but RSV can be life-threatening even for healthy infants.

Since COVID-19 has dominated public discussion in recent years, it is unsurprising that RSV has not garnered much attention. Yet RSV has always been a threat to infants. Every year, many patients from our community develop RSV, several are hospitalized, and a few are admitted to the ICU (intensive care unit) with respiratory failure. RSV is long overdue for increased public awareness and public health intervention.

A new RSV vaccine has been developed

Fortunately, help is on the way this fall. A new RSV vaccine called Nirsevimab (being distributed under the trade name Beyfortus) has been shown to reduce severe cases of RSV. Nirsevimab is recommended for:

  • Infants younger than 8 months of age in their 1st RSV season
  • Infants ages 8 to 19 months with certain high-risk medical conditions in their 2nd RSV season

So, this means that no child older than 19 months of age can receive the vaccine. If your child is between 8 months and 19 months of age and has a medical condition, ask your doctor if he or she is eligible.

The RSV vaccine contains antibodies

Our bodies fight viruses in many ways, one of the most important of which is by producing antibodies against the virus. Nirsevimab works by giving your baby antibodies which target and neutralize RSV. These antibodies have an extended life in your baby’s body, continuing to provide protection for several months.

RSV vaccines like Nirsevimab are “tried and true”

Vaccines like Nirsevimab have a good track record. Palivizumab, known more commonly by its trade name Synagis, has been approved for infants since 1996. Palivizumab also provides antibodies that fight RSV. And while it is effective, unfortunately, it is only approved for high-risk infants. We are excited that, with Nirsevimab, all infants (not just those at high risk) can now benefit from protection against RSV.

We are taking steps to provide our patients with the RSV vaccine

We expect to have Nirsevimab available for infants at their well visits from October- March. Your child’s pediatrician may discuss Nirsevimab with you in the office at your child’s next checkup. We understand that some parents have many questions and concerns and in order to adequately address these concerns we may ask you to schedule a separate appointment to discuss the vaccine. As always, please do not hesitate to call the office any time between now and your child’s next checkup.

For expectant parents, keep in mind that some nurseries will be offering Nirsevimab to newborn babies between October and March.

(Image by Drazen Zigic on Freepik)

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