RSV Causes 1 in 50 Deaths in Children Under Age 5: Study

Ralph Ellis

November 11, 2022

The respiratory illness RSV causes 1 in 50 deaths in children under age 5, mostly in low-income and middle-income countries, a new study says.

But RSV – formally known as respiratory syncytial virus – is also a problem in high-income nations. In those countries, 1 in 56 otherwise healthy babies are hospitalized with RSV during their first year of life, said the study, which was published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

Researchers looked at the health records of 9,154 infants born between July 1, 2017, and July 31, 2020, who were treated at health centers across Europe. Previous studies have concentrated on babies with pre-existing conditions, but this one looked at otherwise healthy children, researchers said.

"This is the lowest-risk baby who is being hospitalized for this, so really, numbers are really much higher than I think some people would have guessed," said study co-author Louis Bont, MD, a professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Wilhelmina Children's Hospital at University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, according to CNN. He is also chairman of the ReSViNET foundation, which aims to reduce RSV infection globally.

The study said more than 97% of deaths from RSV occur in low-income and middle-income countries. The study concluded that "maternal vaccination and passive [immunization] could have a profound impact on the RSV burden."

In developed nations, children who get RSV usually survive because they have access to ventilators and other health care equipment. Still, just being treated for RSV can have long-range negative effects on a child's health, Kristina Deeter, MD, chair of pediatrics at the University of Nevada, Reno, School of Medicine told CNN.

"Whether that is just traumatic psychosocial, emotional issues after hospitalization or even having more vulnerable lungs – you can develop asthma later on, for instance, if you've had a really severe infection at a young age – it can damage your lungs permanently," she said of the study. "It's still an important virus in our world and something that we really focus on."

The Lancet study was published days after the CDC warned public health officials that respiratory viruses, including RSV, are surging among children across the country.

Sources

The Lancet Respiratory Medicine: "The burden of respiratory syncytial virus in healthy term-born infants in Europe: a prospective birth cohort study."

CNN: "RSV responsible for 1 in 50 child deaths under age 5, study estimates."

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