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Newly approved drug may protect many babies and young children from RSV by this fall, UH doctor says

Tim Harrison
Ideastream Public Media
A University Hospitals doctor said respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, may be an illness of the past if a newly-approved immunizing agent is widely used.

A drug that could prevent seasonal respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, in babies and infants could be in Northeast Ohio hospitals by this fall.

About 75 percent of children get RSV in their first year of life, but the virus can lead to hospitalization if the baby's airways get blocked or if they have a lung condition said Dr. Claudia Hoyen, the director of pediatric infection control at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital.

Now with federal approval, doctors could soon prescribe Beyfortus to protect more babies and vulnerable infants from RSV, who previously didn't qualify for preventative medicines, she said.

"We do know that there's still an enormous burden of disease, of RSV in regular healthy newborns who are born at term. A lot of those children end up in a doctor's office. A smaller percentage of them end up in an E.R., and some of them end up in the hospital," Hoyen said. "We do have at least one or two children each year that passed away from RSV. It's not an insignificant thing."

How widespread the drug is prescribed may depend on how much insurance companies will cover the cost of the drug, Hoyen said.

But if it is widely used, she said Beyfortus could alleviate the burden on the health care system during the winter illness period. Northeast Ohio had its worst RSV season in a long time this past winter, after not seeing many cases during the pandemic, said Hoyen.

"Having done pediatrics and infectious diseases for 32 years, thinking about, in the future not really having RSV seasons, if there is a lot of uptake of this, just very seems very surreal," she said.

In the U.S., about 600,000 children a year end up at the doctor's office or in the hospital for RSV, Hoyen said.

Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.