Although many are not familiar with it, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the leading cause of hospitalization in infants and a major cause of hospitalization and death among adults age 65 years and older in the US.
RSV is a common respiratory virus that infects the nose, throat, lungs, and breathing passages. It spreads through contact with respiratory droplets (coughing, sneezing, or kissing) from an infected person or by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Each year in the US, RSV kills an estimated 100 to 500 children <5 years old and 14,000 older adults. RSV also contributes to 1.5 million outpatient visits and nearly 500,000 emergency room visits annually. The actual numbers are likely even higher due to underreporting of RSV infections and the lack of active, consistent disease surveillance. Of additional concern, RSV disproportionally impacts lower-income households and communities of color.
RSV also has a significant economic impact. The cost of treating children <2 years old with RSV was estimated at more than $1.7 billion in 2009. To help raise awareness of the burden of RSV, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health alert in 2021 to warn healthcare professionals about increased interseasonal RSV activity in parts of the US and the need for additional testing.
Treatment is limited to supportive care, as there are currently no approved treatments for RSV. However, there are compelling reasons to prioritize the prevention and treatment of RSV in the US, as new and innovative RSV interventions are on the horizon and have the potential to significantly reduce the burden of RSV in children and older adults. Successful implementation of new interventions will rely on raising awareness about RSV and the burden of disease.
The more we understand the true impact of RSV, the better prepared we are to diagnose and treat it, especially in light of new and innovative tools in development.
NFID President-Elect Patricia (Patsy) A. Stinchfield, RN, MS, CPNP
To highlight this public health concern, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) has published a Call to Action: Reducing the Burden of RSV Across the Lifespan, focusing on three primary strategies:
- Increasing awareness: RSV receives far less attention compared with other respiratory diseases. Specific initiatives are necessary to help raise awareness among healthcare professionals and the public regarding RSV burden, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment, since RSV can be much more serious than most people think.
- Strengthening public health capacity: Public health leaders and policymakers must prioritize a robust response to RSV that includes improving public health surveillance, expanding diagnostic capacity, and revisiting public health recommendations. It is imperative to rebuild public health capacity, especially in state and local health departments, which have been operating under unprecedented strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Laying the foundation for implementation of new interventions: After decades of limited innovation, the development of new RSV vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, and antiviral treatments could have a tremendous impact on outcomes for those most at risk for RSV infection. These interventions will create new demands including the need for better pediatric and adult surveillance data, health economic assessments, and insurance coverage. Efforts need to focus on supporting the rapid adoption and deployment of new evidence-based interventions for RSV prevention and treatment.
We need updated epidemiologic information to better characterize the burden of RSV in pediatric and adult populations. Surveillance data are important so we can have a better understanding of the true burden of RSV, including hospitalizations, severe illness, and mortality.
NFID Medical Director William Schaffner, MD
To learn more about RSV and to read the NFID Call to Action, visit www.nfid.org/rsv.
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