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Respiratory Syncytial Virus Takes a Toll on Families

A cough, a wheeze, a sniffle. For an infant or young child, these symptoms may mark the beginning of a virus that places a huge burden on their families and their health for years to come.

So explains The Burden of RSV: Impacting All Families,” a recently released white paper from the National Coalition for Infant Health.

While not every child experiences RSV the same, many develop harsh symptoms that can seriously hinder their wellbeing. And the impact of RSV extends beyond the sick child to their family.

A Burdensome Experience

While adults may experience RSV as “just a cold,” infants and young children can face serious damage and harsh symptoms from the virus. And RSV is not rare.

  • Nearly all infants catch RSV. Research shows that before the age of 2, nearly all infants catch RSV. It’s an illness to which nearly all babies are susceptible.
  • RSV symptoms are painful. Babies and children may suffer painful symptoms while they have RSV, such as wheezing, coughing, lethargy and struggling to breathe. These symptoms can cause lasting harm.
  • Supportive care is needed. In many cases, symptoms may be too much for children to handle on their own. For children under the age of 5, RSV causes more than 500,000 emergency room visits and 58,000 hospital visits each year.

While preemies and infants are particularly vulnerable, children under the age of 5 are still at a high risk of severe RSV.

Long-Term Consequences

The impact of RSV does not end when a baby’s immune system finally wins out against the virus. The harm caused by RSV, unfortunately, can lead to further difficulties for the baby and their family. RSV can lead to:

  • Emotional strain. During an RSV hospitalization, families may experience distress or emotional exhaustion. Watching a child struggling with illness is draining and additional responsibilities such as work and child care for siblings can place even more stress on parents.
  • Financial toll. Hospitalization and follow-up treatments can generate staggering medical bills. The total cost for supportive care can be devastating for families who are just trying to care for their child.
  • Health complications. Children who contract RSV at a young age are more likely to develop asthma or another breathing disorder later in life. While children may overcome the virus, its impact lingers in the form of long-term health consequences.

Despite the harm RSV causes, no cure or vaccine yet exists. There are preventive interventions, but not everyone can access them.

Read “The Burden of RSV: Impacting All Families” to learn more about RSV, its impact and how families and health care providers can work to prevent it.