by Amanda Conschafter, blog editor
As the season for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) wages on, several states have reported alarming rates of the virus. These reports call into question the consequence of restricted access to preventative RSV treatment. And it leaves parents of preemies with few options for protecting their babies in communities rife with the deadly virus.
[WATCH: Protecting Premature Infants]
In Colorado, a Denver news station reported that a local hospital was “packed with children suffering from a respiratory virus called RSV.” The University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital also reported an influx in RSV patients, while Arizona has for several weeks reported “skyrocketing” rates of the virus. This year’s cases exceed those of Arizona’s last RSV season by 234 percent.
Meanwhile, one Oklahoma newspaper lamented, “As if the annual cold and flu season weren’t enough to contend with, Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, also hit its peak.” Louisiana cited “epidemic” levels of RSV. And an Iowa news station reported that a local infant had died, just one day after her RSV diagnosis.
Could better access to the preventative treatment palivizumab have prevented some of these cases? Perhaps. But the equally pressing question now may be: How can parents of premature infants protect their babies during this harsh RSV season if preventative treatment remains inaccessible?
No vaccine for RSV exists. But palivizumab, offered as monthly injections during RSV season, can protect vulnerable infants. Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases, however, limit the treatment to infants born before 29 weeks gestation.
Some state Medicaid systems have adopted the AAP’s stance into their coverage policies, effectively denying preventative treatment to premature infants born after 29 weeks. These barriers to access exist despite compelling statistics about the dangers of RSV. The virus is 10 times as deadly as the flu. It accounts for 90,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths per year in children 5 years of age and younger.
Yet as RSV season continues, families of premature infants may have only the most basic precautions – hand washing, avoiding public places – to protect their babies from this dangerous respiratory virus.