RSV Season Takes Toll on Preterm Infants and Senior Citizens

One month into the Respiratory Syncytial Virus season, data shows that the disease is taking its toll.   RSV is a contagious seasonal virus that causes respiratory infections and can prove deadly for vulnerable preterm infants and senior citizens.

New Data on Preterm Infants with RSV

New results from the SENTINEL 1 study show RSV’s impact on infants younger than three months old who were born between 29 and 35 weeks’ gestation. Those without preventive treatment known as “palivizumab” frequently need ICU care and mechanical ventilation to fight the virus. SENTINEL 1 is an ongoing study that includes data from multiple medical centers.

During the 2015-2016 phase of the study, 678 preterm infants were hospitalized for RSV. Of these infants, 48 percent were admitted to the ICU and 19 percent needed invasive mechanical ventilation to breathe. The results resembled the SENTNEL 1’s 2014-2015 data, which also demonstrated the impact of RSV on preterm infants without access to preventive treatment.

[READ “Fast Facts: Respiratory Syncytial Virus”]

separate analysis surveyed both Medicaid and commercial health insurance data from 2.2 million U.S. infants – the first analysis of its kind. The data covered preterm infants under the age of three months who were born between 29 and 34 weeks’ gestation. Results showed a dramatic decrease in the use of preventive RSV treatment during the 2014-2015 RSV season; down 45-94 percent for commercial patients and 65-95 percent for Medicaid populations. Over the same time period, RSV hospitalization rates increased by 170 percent for commercially insured patients and 40 percent for Medicaid patients.

Preterm infants born between 29-34 weeks’ gestation have had limited access to preventive treatment in recent years. Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases suggested in 2013 that the treatment was not needed for infants born before 29 weeks gestation. Many health plans and state Medicaid systems subsequently adjusted their coverage policies, limiting access for the majority of preterm infants.

RSV Threat for Senior Citizens

Preterm infants aren’t the only ones vulnerable to RSV. A September report from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases noted that RSV causes about 177,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths annually in adults age 65 and older. The risk of serious infection increases as seniors age, and the virus can cause pneumonia and exacerbate conditions such as congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

RSV symptoms resemble those of the flu, making it difficult for patients to identify the disease. No RSV treatment or vaccine currently exists, though the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases reports that “three dozen RSV vaccines for a range of patient populations are currently in preclinical development and more than a dozen are in clinical trials.”

For forthcoming treatments to help patients, therefore, education and surveillance efforts must first raise the issue for a public that’s largely unaware of the disease – or the threat it poses.


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