Coming down with the flu this season may not be the worst thing to expect, especially if you care for a small child or elderly adult. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a contagious seasonal virus. It causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract that often hospitalizes infants and adults more than the common flu per year. The virus can lead to bronchitis and pneumonia. It is the most common cause of lower respiratory tract infections among young children in the United States and worldwide. Most infants are infected before 1 year of age, and virtually everyone gets an RSV infection by 2 years of age.
Each year, on average, in the United States, RSV leads to
- 57,527 hospitalizations among children younger than 5 years old;
- 2.1 million outpatient visits among children younger than 5 years old; and
- 177,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths among adults older than 65 years.
RSV affects black babies in particular, states Susanne Tropez-Sims, MD in a recent essay. “Black babies are more likely than white babies to be born prematurely. And they are more likely to encounter the risk factors associated with RSV, such as low rates of breastfeeding, crowded living conditions, and contact with school-aged siblings and environmental pollutants. Without access to preventative RSV treatment, black babies face these risks unprotected. As a result, too many will also face RSV.”