Diane MacDonald | Stockbyte | Getty Images
Even healthy infants face a considerable risk of hospitalization from respiratory syncytial virus, according to a large European study published on Thursday.
Dutch and British scientists, in a study published in Lancet Respiratory Medicine, found that 1.8% of healthy infants are hospitalized with RSV before their first birthday. This means that approximately 1 in 56 healthy infants are hospitalized with the virus each year.
Dr. Louis Bont, one of the study authors, pointed out that the incidence of RSV hospitalizations in healthy infants was about twice as high as researchers expected.
Scientists have found that the majority of infants hospitalized with RSV are under 3 months old. About 1 in 18 infants hospitalized with RSV required intensive care unit treatment.
RSV is a common respiratory virus that normally causes mild cold-like symptoms. But for infants under 6 months old, it can cause lung infections that lead to hospitalization and in some cases require assisted breathing.
Scientists followed more than 9,000 healthy newborns until at least their first birthday at five sites in Spain, Finland, England, Scotland and the Netherlands.
They found that 145 of the healthy babies were hospitalized with RSV, eight of whom required intensive care unit treatment, or about 5%, and three of whom required mechanical ventilation, or 2%.
Bont said the findings underscore the importance of bringing vaccines to market that can significantly reduce disease in infants and relieve pressure on pediatric hospitals.
The European Medicines Agency this month approved an antibody called nirsevimab, developed by AstraZeneca and Sanofi, to prevent lower respiratory tract disease due to RSV in newborns and infants.
Pfizer is developing a single-dose vaccine given to pregnant women to protect their newborns against severe RSV disease. Clinical trials found the vaccine to be around 81% effective in preventing serious lower respiratory tract disease during the baby’s first 90 days of life.
Pfizer plans to submit an application to the Food and Drug Administration by the end of 2022 for vaccine approval in the United States
The United States is facing a significant increase in RSV cases among children in almost every region of the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 77% of pediatric hospital beds are occupied by RSV and influenza, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.
The CDC encourages parents to seek immediate medical attention for their children if they have any of the following warning signs: difficulty breathing, bluish lips or face, chest or muscle pain, dehydration (dry mouth, crying without tears, or no urine for hours), or not being alert or interactive when awake.
Symptoms of RSV include a runny nose, loss of appetite, and a cough that may progress to wheezing. Infants almost always show symptoms, but for babies younger than 6 months, these symptoms may be more subtle, according to the CDC. RSV does not always result in fever.
According to the CDC, irritability, decreased activity and appetite, and a pause in breathing are all signs that an infant might have RSV.