Facts on Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

RSV can be serious in infants and toddlers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a very common virus that leads to mild, cold-like symptoms in adults and older healthy children. But it can be far more serious in infants and toddlers, especially those in certain high-risk groups.

“In children under 24 months of age who have certain medical conditions, RSV can be very serious and require hospitalization,” said Ibrahim Abdulhamid, MD, Director of Pulmonary Medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan and Associate Professor at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. “In fact, about two to three percent of all infants are hospitalized due to RSV during their first year of life.”

"Originally produced by Children's Hospital of Michigan."

Children at the highest risk for severe RSV complications are generally under 24 months of age with one of the following risk factors:

  • Chronic lung disease from prematurity
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Premature birth

DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan offers Synagis® (palivizumab) prophylaxis for children in these high-risk categories. Palivizumab is an FDA-approved prescription injection of monoclonal antibodies that is given monthly during RSV season to help protect high-risk infants from severe RSV disease. Palivizumab is not a vaccine; it contains virus-fighting antibodies that can help protect high-risk infants from severe RSV disease.

“For high-risk infants and children under 24 months, it’s very important to get the palivizumab shot every month during RSV season, which is generally November through March or April,” Dr. Abdulhamid said. “But the monthly injections should only be given to high-risk children up to 24 months of age and they should only receive a maximum of five doses during the RSV season.”

So a high-risk child who turns two years old in the middle of RSV season – let’s say in January – does not need to continue monthly palivizumab prophylaxis for the remainder of the RSV season.

Dr. Abdulhamid recommends palivizumab prophylaxis during RSV season for:

  • Children and infants younger than 24 months of age who have received medical therapy for lung disease within six months before the start of the RSV season.
  • Infants born before 28 weeks gestation, until they reach 12 months of age.
  • Infants born between 29 and 32 weeks gestation until they reach six months of age.
  • Infants born between 32 and 35 weeks gestation who are younger than three months of age at start of RSV season.

“There is some evidence that children born between 32 and 35 weeks that are less than three months of age before the onset of RSV season or during the season are at a higher risk if they attend childcare or have siblings in the house who are younger than five years of age,” Dr. Abdulhamid said. “These children should be given the prophylaxis only until they reach three months of age and only a maximum of three doses.”

To schedule an appointment call (313) 745-KIDS or toll-free at (888) 362-2500.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 14, 2013
Last Updated:
February 4, 2013