Wheeze Relief

Wheezing in preterm babies reduced through prevention of respiratory syncytial virus

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Pre-term babies are at risk of developing a variety of complications and health issues as they grow. One common issue for these children is wheezing.

A new study out of Europe explored whether fighting one specific virus called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) could potentially prevent problems with wheezing in these pre-term infants born before 37 weeks of gestation.

The researchers found that treating these infants with an RSV-prevention drug significantly reduced the days spent wheezing during their first year of life.

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According to the study authors, who were led by Maarten O. Blanken, MD, of the Division of Pediatric Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the University Medical Center Utrecht in The Netherlands, lower respiratory tract illness caused by RSV is the most frequent cause of hospitalization during the winter months of a child’s first year of life.

RSV has been associated with recurrent wheezing in other studies, but no clear causal relationship has been found. According to the authors, “Early childhood wheeze after RSV infection has a high prevalence, influences quality of life, and generates substantial health care costs.”

The research team looked at 429 babies born preterm (33 to 35 weeks) between 2008 and 2010 in the Netherlands. The infants were otherwise healthy and aged 6 months or younger when RSV season started.

The infants were divided into two groups, with 214 receiving monthly injections of palivizumab (Synagis), a medication used to prevent RSV, and the remaining 215 babies receiving a placebo (fake medication).

The parents of the infants then reported the total number of days that the child experienced wheezing during their first year of life.

The researchers found that children who received RSV-prevention treatment had a 61 percent reduction of wheezing days compared to their placebo treatment counterparts. 

Of the 53,075 total days measured in the infants who received palivizumab, 930 were wheezing days (1.8 percent). Of the 51,726 total days measured in the infants who received a placebo, 2,309 were wheezing days (4.5 percent).

The authors also found that 11.2 percent of the RSV-prevention treatment infants had recurrent wheezing, while the same was true for 20.9 percent of the placebo infants.

This data led the authors to conclude, “[T]reatment with a monoclonal antibody for RSV prevention in late preterm infants greatly reduced the number of parent-reported wheezing days during the first year of life, even after the end of therapy and outside the RSV season.”

The authors also reported that the study showed RSV infection is likely “an important mechanism of recurrent wheeze during the first year of life” for these pre-term babies.

However, it is important to note that while RSV prevention reduced wheezing, it did not eliminate it completely. The study also did not explore the potential costs of RSV-prevention treatment to parents.

The study was published online by the New England Journal of Medicine on May 9.

The study was funded with a grant from Abbott Laboratories, which markets palivizumab. The authors reported that Abbott had no influence on the results or design of the study.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 9, 2013
Last Updated:
September 20, 2013