For as long as I’ve been a pediatrician, our craft has been known as a “winter sport,” and this year may be no exception. As we head into fall, infectious disease experts are predicting yet another respiratory season where flu, COVID-19, and RSV may circulate simultaneously in high numbers. For parents and pediatricians alike, there is one notable (and positive) difference this season. In addition to existing and updated flu and COVID-19 vaccines, this year we have a new treatment to protect vulnerable infants from RSV. As a pediatrician and a mom, I highly recommend you get it.
RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, is a common childhood virus that causes respiratory illnesses. Most children get it before the age of 2 and it often manifests as a common cold. In some infants, however, the cold-like symptoms can be followed by a lower respiratory tract infection. These babies can develop pneumonia or bronchiolitis, a condition in which there is swelling, irritation and mucus build up in the small airways of the lungs. This condition may require hospitalization, where the baby’s breathing may need to be supported with oxygen.
Every year, anywhere from 58,000 to 80,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized in the US following an RSV infection. Most of these children are under the age of 1. These numbers do not capture the many others who make a trip to the pediatrician, or the lost days of work (or hours of sleep!) for their parents.
This season, though, we have some good news: there is a new treatment to prevent infants from getting severely ill from an RSV infection. The treatment is called nirsevimab, and it is an injection that can be given to your baby during a routine visit to the pediatrician or before you leave the hospital after delivery. Unlike a vaccine, which stimulates the body’s immune system to make antibodies, nirsevimab contains already-made antibodies that start to protect babies right away. This type of protection is shorter, lasting 5 months in the case of nirsevimab, but for babies with still-developing immune systems, the protection can make all the difference during RSV season.
The current recommendation is to give one dose of nirsevimab to all babies younger than 8 months of age during or before the RSV season. Babies who are 8 to 19 months and are entering their second RSV season but have a high-risk condition should receive the shot as well.
In a clinical trial, nirsevimab showed a 77 percent efficacy rate at preventing both hospitalizations and doctors’ visits following an RSV infection. Adverse reactions were generally mild, with the most frequent one being a rash at the site of the injection.
RSV has historically been the number one reason for hospitalization in children under the age of 1. This year, for the first time, we have a tool to prevent severe infection in all infants. We hope many parents will choose to take advantage of it and many more children will be able to stay safely home.
Editor’s note: Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez is a practicing pediatrician at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, a contributing editor to SheKnows, and a mom to an active toddler.
Before you go, check out these products that can ease your child’s cold symptoms:
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