At Alzein Pediatrics, the fall and winter seasons are always a concern. Because children spend more time indoors in crowded conditions like schools and because bacteria and viruses are more likely to spread in these conditions, we see a surge in illnesses we may have observed for several months. One of these is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Recently, you’ve likely heard of a new immunization recommended by the CDC to prevent severe RSV infections in both infants and seniors. You may have questions, and we are here to answer them.
RSV can have many of the same symptoms as a cold; runny nose, fever, coughing and sneezing. Research suggests that 97% of children contract RSV by the age of 2 and have a mild case of the illness. However, in 2-3% of infants, it can cause bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the small airways in the lungs. For the very young, that inflammation can make breathing difficult and pose serious health risks. The CDC estimates that between 58,000-80,000 children end up in the hospital every year due to RSV. Recent research suggests links between contracting an RSV infection in Baby’s first year and childhood asthma.
In short, nearly every infant will get RSV and about 2-3 of every 100 babies will be hospitalized, often requiring oxygen and IV fluids and sometimes, mechanical ventilation. Nearly 120,000 infants in hospitals do not survive an RSV infection and it is estimated that about 66% of infant deaths of children who were not hospitalized can also be attributed to an RSV infection.
Now, scientists have developed an RSV vaccine for older adults. A vaccine teaches the body to produce antibodies, so it can churn them out as needed. If you are pregnant, your OBGYN might recommend the RSV vaccine between week 32 and 36 of pregnancy to pass that protection onto your developing infant.
There is no vaccine available for infants, the group most at risk for RSV complications.
Instead, you may consider the RSV immunization, nirsevimab (Beyfortus), for your infant. While a vaccine introduces a virus to the immune system to defend against the virus by producing antibodies, immunization gives the immune system the ability to fight infections.
Since the infant immune system isn’t prepared to defend itself against RSV, and since a vaccine for infants is not currently available, the best way to minimize hospitalizations and deaths is to bolster the child’s immune system with monoclonal antibodies, synthetic proteins designed to fight particular viruses. These antibodies lower (but cannot eliminate) an infant’s risk of infection and significantly lower the severity of infections, resulting in fewer long-term health complications. Antibody treatments “stockpile” a particular antibody, and while that stockpile will erode over time, the antibody treatment can be depended upon to keep your infant safer from severe RSV at the age when they are most vulnerable, avoiding potential complications for little lungs.
This is not a new technology. The research and work of engineering antibodies and introducing them to the human immune system dates back to 1986. Monoclonal antibody treatments have been used to treat some forms of cancer, prevent organ transplant rejections, and now to fight RSV. The CDC recommends this antibody treatment for all newborn infants who do not have acquired vaccine immunity from their mothers. Additionally, an RSV antibody dose is recommended for children between 8 and 19 months of age entering a second RSV season if they have chronic lung disease, are immunocompromised, have cystic fibrosis, and/or are of American Indian and/or Alaska Native descent.
Our offices will continue to work with specialty pharmacies to provide the SYNAGIS injection for extremely premature infants, infants with heart conditions, and infants under the age of 2 years who have autoimmune conditions.
At this time, most insurance companies will cover the cost of the RSV immunization and the injection will shortly be available at Alzein Pediatrics. If you have questions, please message us through your patient portal. We will be happy to help!