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New RSV treatment available for babies and toddlers

Posted at 8:41 AM, Aug 24, 2023

Every winter Primary Children's Hospital fills with infants and toddlers suffering from Respiratory Syncytial Virus, known as RSV. But for the first time, many or even most of those hospitalizations are preventable.

There's a pretty good chance you've had RSV, without ever knowing.

“For the most part, RSV causes cold like illness, and people don't get really sick,” said Dr. Per Gesteland.

If your young child had it, it’s far more likely you knew, and suffered.

Gesteland said,” If I never had to see another patient with RSV bronchiolitis landed my hospital, I'll be very happy. And if those families don't have to go through this, if they could avoid this very stressful costly, scary experience I think it would be a wonderful thing for them and their families.”

Dr. Gesteland sees those babies every year, guiding their care at Primary Children's Hospital. He knows babies don't understand the symptoms, and only feel the discomfort and fear...and he knows for infants, a struggle to breath means a struggle to eat.

“Babies are very much dependent on their nose for breathing. As you can imagine that they're at the bottle or at the breast they need their noses open to be able to breathe while they're doing those activities.”

So Gesteland hopes lots of young parents see this report...or learn from their pediatricians about a new treatment.

“It's a drug, specifically a monoclonal antibody, that's now being shown to work very effectively in young babies and infants and toddlers to prevent medically attended RSV visits to emergency departments and hospitalizations.”

It's not a vaccine, but in this case it may be better. Remember vaccines kick start an immune system to build its own defenses.

Gestland said, “In young babies, infants, especially premature babies, that part of their immune system isn't there isn't fully developed. So, they don't have the ability to generate that antibody response to a vaccination like this.”

Some of you may be thinking…years ago my child got a treatment that sounds like the same thing. You are right and wrong. The old monoclonal treatment required a lot more work, money and pain.

“It was fairly expensive. It was required dosing every month. So, it's kind of hard to get your baby into clinic and get a shot every month for those five or six months that RSV seasons last. This drug looks like it lasts almost for a year, maybe longer and the patient's systems. So, we get nice protection over that five-to-six-month RSV season with a single shot that can be administered safely to these young babies and infants.”

The treatment is called Nirsevimab and is designed specifically for babies and toddlers.

RSV vaccines for adults over 60, the other most at-risk group was recently approved, and a vaccine for women in their third trimester of pregnancy was just approved on Monday.