Employee & Community Health

Preventing RSV

10/17/2016 by Dr. Robert M. Jacobson

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RSV stands for respiratory syncytial virus. As viruses go, RSV is fairly common. It starts showing up in fall and can persist through spring. RSV can cause bronchiolitis, croup, pneumonia and what looks like a common cold. 

It's spread through coughing and sneezing, and by touching surfaces that have RSV on them, then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Most children get RSV by the time they're two years old. Healthy children usually recover on their own within a week or two. Hand washing is the best defense for most of us. 

Each year in the U.S., an estimated 57,500 children younger than five are hospitalized due to RSV infection. While there is no vaccine to prevent RSV, there is a preventive medication that provides temporary immunity. It is called palivizumab; the brand name is Synagis®. The preventive medication's effect is temporary. High-risk infants who qualify for it will need one to five injections, given monthly, starting in November and continuing no later than March. 

Only a few high-risk infants qualify for the medication. High-risk conditions include: 

  • Preterm infants born before 29 weeks' gestation
  • Preterm infants born before 32 weeks' gestation with chronic lung disease of prematurity
  • Children 12 months or younger with congenital heart disease that interferes with blood flow
  • Children 12 months or younger with lung abnormalities or nerve-muscle disorders
  • Children younger than 24 months whose immunity will be profoundly compromised during the RSV season
  • Children younger than 234 months of age who have cystic fibrosis

Your care team clinician will contact you if your infant qualifies, but you also can contact your care team if you think your child should receive the preventive medication. 

Dr. Robert M. Jacobson is a primary care pediatrician in Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM) and medical director of the ECH and Southeast Minnesota Region Immunization Program.