Study finds most healthy infants hospitalized with RSV.

Study finds most healthy infants hospitalized with RSV.

Protecting Infants from Severe RSV: New Insights and Preventive Measures


As we gear up for another season of viruses, experts have come to realize that even healthy infants with no underlying health issues are at risk of severe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This newly discovered information has significant implications for the protection of all infants from RSV, which is the leading cause of respiratory tract infections and hospitalizations in infants worldwide.

New research conducted at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville has found that most infants who were admitted to an intensive care unit for RSV last fall were actually in good health before their infection. Dr. Natasha Halasa, the lead investigator of the study, emphasized the significance of these findings, stating that although deaths were rare, the severity of illness caused by RSV in young infants cannot be overlooked. It is worth noting that the infants requiring ICU-level care were generally young, healthy, and born at term.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RSV is responsible for approximately 80,000 hospitalizations in children under 5 years old each year, with around 20% of these cases requiring ICU admission. These alarming statistics indicate the urgent need for preventive measures against RSV.

The study, which analyzed 600 infants from 27 states as part of the RSV Pediatric Intensive Care registry, identified the peak age for infants requiring intensive care during the 2022 RSV season as 2.6 months. Surprisingly, only 28% of these infants had been born prematurely, and as many as 81% had no pre-existing medical conditions. Additionally, 24% of the infants needed ventilator support.

While infants without underlying conditions face a significant risk from RSV, those with certain medical conditions, such as congenital heart disease, neurologic disorders, chronic lung disease, immunocompromising conditions, or prematurity, face an even higher risk. To protect all infants from this harmful virus, preventive strategies are crucial.

Earlier this month, the CDC introduced a new antibody shot, nirsevimab, which is now recommended for all infants under the age of 8 months. This new antibody shot, commercially known as Beyfortus, has been shown to reduce the risk of both hospitalizations and healthcare visits for RSV by around 80%. The CDC’s recommendation for this antibody shot aims to equip parents with a powerful tool to protect their children against the threat of severe RSV.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the director of the CDC, expressed the importance of using these new tools during the upcoming respiratory virus season. She encouraged parents to discuss this new immunization with their pediatricians and emphasized the significance of preventing severe RSV.

Currently, high-risk infants are eligible to receive the monoclonal antibody palivizumab to prevent RSV-associated lower respiratory tract infections (LRTI). However, the study found that most infants who ended up in the ICU with severe RSV did not have any underlying medical conditions. Even among the 17 infants eligible for palivizumab, only two received it. Considering these insights, the use of both Beyfortus and palivizumab could potentially protect both high-risk and healthy infants from medically attended RSV-associated LRTI.

It’s essential to prioritize the prevention of RSV illness in infants. The study findings were published in JAMA Network Open, providing valuable information for healthcare professionals and parents alike.

Sources:Vanderbilt University Medical Center, news release, Aug. 15, 2023Image: Cold or Flu? How to Tell the Difference