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Respiratory syncytial virus and the toll it takes on young children

Published: 27th May, 2022


According to a new estimate published in The Lancet, Lower respiratory infection attributable to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) was responsible for more than 1,00,000 deaths in children under five worldwide in 2019.


Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV):

  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common respiratory virus that infects the nose, throat, lungs, and breathing passages.
  • RSV spreads through contact with respiratory droplets (coughing, sneezing, or kissing) from an infected person or touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • RSV can survive for many hours on hard surfaces such as tables and crib rails.
  • The virus typically lives on soft surfaces such as tissues and hands for shorter amounts of time.
  • Children are often exposed to RSV outside the home, in school or daycare centers. They can then transmit the virus to other members of the family.

  • Symptoms of RSV infection usually include
  • Runny nose
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Wheezing

Severe RSV Infection

  • Virtually all children get an RSV infection by the time they are 2 years old. Most of the time RSV will cause a mild, cold-like illness, but it can also cause severe illness such as
  • Bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung)
  • Pneumonia (infection of the lungs)
  • One to two out of every 100 children younger than 6 months of age with RSV infection may need to be hospitalized.


  • An antiviral drug called palivizumab (pah-lih-VIH-zu-mahb) is available to prevent severe RSV illness in high-risk infants (born prematurely or with congenital heart disease or chronic lung disease).

Key findings of Lancet estimates:

  • The study is the first to examine RSV disease burden in narrow age brackets.
  • There were over 45,000 deaths in infants under six months old in 2019, with one in five of the total global cases of RSV occurring in this age group.
  • Estimates from a 2015 study, placed the number of annual cases of RSV in children up to five years old at 3.3 crore, resulting in 1,18,200 overall deaths.
  • In 2019, there were 3.3 crore RSV-associated acute lower respiratory infection episodes in children under five years old, leading to 26,300 in-hospital deaths, and 1,01,400 RSV-attributable deaths overall.
  • For children under six months old, there were 66 lakh RSV-associated acute lower respiratory infection episodes globally in 2019 and 45,700 overall deaths.
  • According to the report the incidence rate in India is 53 per 1,000 children per year (5.3%) and there were an approximate 61,86, 500 episodes of RSV-associated acute lower respiratory infection in children below five years.
  • 97% of RSV deaths in children under five occurred in low- and middle-income countries.

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