Most young children encounter what’s known as Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, before age two. It’s a common seasonal virus with flu-like symptoms. But as a new video from the National Coalition for Infant Health explains, premature infants whose health plans don’t cover preventive RSV treatment may suffer – and unnecessarily so.
“The Gap Baby: An RSV Story” explains that premature infants have underdeveloped lungs and weak immune systems, making them susceptible to RSV. The disease can be deadly; it can also lead to complications such as asthma and wheezing later in childhood. Term infants can often fight the virus off, while severely premature infants typically have health plan coverage for preventive treatment known as palivizumab.
But babies born at 29-36 weeks may lack coverage for treatment, leaving these “gap babies” vulnerable.
Certain measures can help to protect premature infants from RSV: vigorous hand washing by parents and siblings, avoiding public places, and limiting home visitors. For low-income families, however, these precautions can be unrealistic. Everyday realities such as public transportation and day care may expose infants to RSV.
The video describe the results of RSV as “emotionally devastating” for parents, who may also experience financial setbacks due to lost wages and days taken off of work to be with their infant in the hospital. Finding care for older siblings can introduce added costs and logistical challenges. Until health plan coverage offers better protection for premature infants, the video explains, RSV “gap babies” will continue to struggle.