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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in preterm and ill infants

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Last updated:1st Mar 2021
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Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in preterm and ill infants

Respiratory Syncytial Virus is a virus that causes infections of the lungs and airways. It commonly appears during the coldest and wettest months of the year, similarly to the influenza virus. In adults and older children the symptoms are commonly mild, with cold-like symptoms such as rhinitis or coughing.

However, if more vulnerable patients (e.g. preterm infants, ill infants or elderly people) are infected with the virus, they may develop a severe lower respiratory tract infection, such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia. These complications often result in admission to a hospital or to the neonatal intensive care unit and sometimes in the use of mechanical ventilation. In particular, preterm infants and infants with bronchopulmonary dysplasia and haemodynamically significant congenital heart disease have an increased risk of severe RSV infections requiring hospitalisation.

There is no vaccination and no curative treatment available. The most effective method to prevent RSV infections in infants and young children are simple hygiene and behavioural measures. In addition, in some cases, immunoprophylaxis with palivizumab can be an option, as it has shown to be safe and effective and can be considered in high-risk infants during RSV season.

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