If you ask any doctor what respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is, they will tell you it is a respiratory virus that can be deadly, especially for premature babies. When we look at RSV from a global perspective, we can see that it surpasses influenza as the important cause of severe respiratory illness in infants/young children.
Scientific estimates have the cases at 64 million with 160,000 deaths each year.1 In the United States, we even see that the hospitalization rate is three times higher than influenza in children under five. That leads to 2 million children in the US receiving care each year with approximately 57,500 needing to be hospitalized. Currently, we are seeing RSV accounting for about 1 in every 13 visits to pediatricians.2
RSV is a highly infectious virus, on par with measles. It is spread by coughing, sneezing, and contact with oral secretions. Unfortunately, RSV can live on hard surfaces for hours and so can also be spread by touching inanimate objects. That puts a burden on hospitals and pediatric clinics down to daycares to make sure that people that are caring for sick children don’t inadvertently spread it to others.
Some people in the medical community don’t test for RSV because there is no treatment. Unfortunately, that misses the bigger points.
What has been stunning to medical community is the threat RSV poses to the elderly. The more we look, the more we find RSV as the cause of respiratory distress among our senior citizens. Studies are estimating that RSV kills 10,000 people each year in the United States that are over the age of 65 with 170,000 hospitalizations. Since RSV is so infectious, we can see outbreaks in geriatric centers. One study estimated that 17 out of every 100 deaths in a nursing home are caused by RSV!3
Some people in the medical community don’t test for RSV because there is no treatment. Unfortunately, that misses the bigger points. If the test is positive, medical professionals should know that an antibiotic or flu medication will do no good whatsoever. If the test is negative, they now know that they may want to do additional testing in case it is something like a treatable pneumonia. Secondly, they may forget that we don’t test just for the patient, but for all those that a positive patient may come in contact with.
All of these statistics have a bearing on our daily lives. By having a rapid and sensitive RSV test, we know what we are dealing with and what to expect. To a person that is worried about a child or elderly parent, knowing is everything. If parents know that their child’s respiratory illness is caused by RSV, they should keep them out of daycares or else risk getting other children sick. Beyond that, we should make sure these children don’t visit the grandparents now that we know that they are susceptible to this virus. Conversely, if the grandparents have it, they shouldn’t come over if the child is under the age of two. As our understanding about the depth of RSV infections comes of age, we realize how much Knowing Now Matters™.
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