Physicians Urge RSV Protection For Black Infants

laughing baby boy

“The Lives of Black Infants Matter!” the National Medical Association declared in a recent email update to members and colleagues. The statement referenced 2014 American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, which limit preventative treatment against deadly respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) to only premature infants born before 29 weeks. Because black babies are more likely than white babies to face RSV risk factors, the AAP’s restrictions disproportionately affect them.

I applaud the NMA’s stance. It’s time that both black health care providers and their non-black colleagues demand better protection for this vulnerable population.

Which Infants Are More Vulnerable to RSV?

RSV, with cold-like symptoms that can develop into serious breathing complications, bronchiolitis and wheezing, isn’t uncommon. But premature infants’ lungs and immune systems aren’t always equipped to fight it off. So for these fragile babies, symptoms may warrant hospitalization and ventilator support. Not all of them survive. In fact, RSV causes 90,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths per year in children 5 years of age and younger. It’s 10 times more deadly than the flu.

No vaccine exists, but preventative treatment called “palivizumab” can help. For years, pediatric care providers have used palivizumab at their discretion to treat premature infants born before 37 weeks gestation.