As of 2022, pandemics such as COVID-19 and tuberculosis are still rampant around the world. But there is another respiratory virus called the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that poses a risk, especially for those living in low-income countries and young children.
RSV in Developing Countries
RSV is a contagious virus that affects the lungs and breathing passages. The reason why RSV is not as well known is because its symptoms are the same as a cold. These include cough, a runny nose and fever. RSV can infect people of any age, but elderly people and children ages 2 and under are at the most risk of catching the virus. And much like the flu and COVID-19, it spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes when around others and touches surfaces and objects.
People infected with RSV may even develop severe infections such as pneumonia or bronchiolitis which is the inflammation of the small airways in the lungs. Despite the danger, however, RSV is preventable. People can protect themselves from infections by simply washing their hands with soap and hot water for 20 seconds, covering coughs and sneezes, wiping surfaces that have been frequently touched and maintaining distance.
With these simple prevention methods, one might be asking just why is RSV so dangerous. While cases of RSV can be mild and clear on their own, a person can be infected multiple times in their lifetime. Furthermore, for those with severe symptoms who lack access to health care services, the outcomes can be devastating.
The Importance of Medical Care
“A seasonal virus that emerges during the winter months” causes RSV. Infants are more at risk for catching RSV since they do not have immunity compared to adults. Not only that, but in recent months the virus has been surging and that is ironically due to the prevention protocols against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prevention methods such as social distancing, hand washing and mask-wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic helped to limit the spread of RSV. As a result, there have been no RSV infections over the past few years. That also means that there are two to three-year-olds who have no immunity to RSV.
The situation is most worrisome when it comes to tackling RSV in developing countries. Many kids in low-income countries may also live in remote areas without access to medical assistance. “More than 95% of RSV deaths occur in low-income countries,” according to Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Unfortunately, a percentage of those who do survive may suffer from long-term health issues such as lung damage.
Currently, there is no known drug or vaccine for RSV. However, a vaccine to prevent RSV is in development by Pfizer who announced at the end of 2022 that its vaccine “showed an efficacy of 82% against hospitalization among infants under 90 days old and 69% among those younger than six months.”
The only challenge left is facilitating vaccine access to low-income countries. On that note, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a grant to support the development of affordable multidose vials for delivery. The foundation is “optimistic that this vaccine could be available to low-income countries at an affordable price by 2024.”
– Aaron Luangkahm