Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) represents a serious health threat to infants, particularly very young and at-risk groups. It is responsible for 33 million respiratory infections each year1 and is the leading cause of lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs) among children worldwide.2 Yet there remains a significant unmet need for the treatment and prevention of RSV.
RSV, usually causes mild cold-like symptoms, but may lead to infection of the lungs and breathing passages.3 It is a common, highly contagious seasonal virus, contracted by 90% of all children by the age of two.4,5 Most babies can fight off the infection on their own. But in some babies – including those born prematurely or those two years or younger with heart or lung conditions – it can develop into a severe infection, with life-threatening consequences.3,6
At present, there is no specific treatment for RSV, which means prevention is crucial for high-risk infants, and for avoiding costly strains on healthcare systems around the world.
Importantly, while public health measures to reduce COVID-19 in 2020 naturally resulted in a decline in worldwide rates of RSV infection7, recent data indicates that RSV cases rise again8. This is another reason to remain aware of the potential changes in RSV activity in one’s own country or region.
Raising awareness of RSV as a major public health threat to infants
Prevention remains our greatest form of defence. However, preventive options are limited and RSV infection as a major public health issue for infants and young children around the world is still not well known by parents and families.9 By enabling parents and caregivers to identify RSV symptoms and know when it is more than ‘just a cold’, particularly among high-risk infants, we have the potential to improve RSV patient care and outcomes.
We all have a role to play in RSV awareness and prevention, and patient advocacy groups are a key driver of raising awareness of RSV prevention. As Silke Mader, Chairwoman of the Executive Board and co-founder of EFCNI, explains “For some parents, the consequences of RSV are all too real. As a mother myself having had preterm children, I understand the importance of educating parents about RSV early on, even as early as pregnancy. Parent advocacy groups provide parents and healthcare professionals the unique opportunity to gain support and knowledge even before their child is born so they can be prepared for the future and know how to tackle RSV early on.”
Therapeutic options offer hope
In the long term, there is some hope offered by the ongoing development of several different maternal vaccines and new long-acting antibodies, which have the potential to offer protection against RSV by providing immunity directly to all infants. An early intervention like this could alter the trajectory of RSV for many families across the globe.
Scientists are beginning to make a difference in patients' lives by ensuring all infants are not left vulnerable to RSV. Alongside future treatment options, continued collaboration with healthcare professionals and caregivers to raise awareness of RSV, its symptoms and causes will be essential for reducing the global burden of this virus. Organisations such as the Respiratory Syncytial Virus Network (ReSViNET) Foundation who aim to foster global collaboration with a commitment to reducing the global burden of RSV infection help us further make a difference in patients’ lives through research and scientific advancements.
As Asuncion Mejias, scientific advisory board member of the ReSViNET, with more than 20 years of experience studying RSV, explains, “Through our patient network, we are involved in various research projects representing the patient perspective and have hands-on RSV experience to make an independent and valuable contribution to the relevance, quality and results of RSV research.”
Alongside colleagues and research and advocacy partners, we aim to create a world where all parents know about RSV infection and every infant is protected from the threat of RSV.
1. WHO strategy pilot global respiratory syncytial virus surveillance based on the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS). World Health Organization. 2017. Accessed July 27, 2020. https://www.who.int/influenza/rsv/WHO_RSV_pilot_strategy_21112017.pdf
2. Lu B, Liu H, Tabor DE, et al. Emergence of new antigenic epitopes in the glycomproteins of human respiratory syncytial virus collected from a US surveillance study, 2015-17. Sci Rep. 2019;9(1):3898. Doi:10.100.38/s41598-019-40387-7
3. Piedimonte G, Perez MK. Respiratory syncytial virus infection and bronchiolitis. Pediatr Rev. 2014;35(12):519-530. doi:10.1542/pir.35-12-519
4. Glezen WP et al. Am J Dis Child. 1986;140(6):543-5463.
5. Collins et al. Journal of Virology. 2008:2040–2055
6. Goldstein M, Phillips R, DeVincenzo JP, et al. National Perinatal Association 2018 Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Prevention Clinical Practice Guideline: an evidence-based interdisciplinary collaboration. Neonatology Today. 2017;12:1-27
7. Rabia Agha and Jeffrey R. Avner. Delayed Seasonal RSV Surge Observed During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Pediatrics- Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. 2021
8. Center for Disease Control. RSV National Trends. https://www.cdc.gov/surveillance/nrevss/rsv/natl-trend.html. Accessed September 2021.
9. National Coalition for Infant Health. RSV awareness: A national poll of parents & health care providers. https://www.infanthealth.org/new-blog/2019/5/rsv-awareness-a-national-poll-of-parents-amp-health-care-providers. Accessed November 2021