US study finds RSV as severe as COVID-19, flu

Infection with Respiratory Syncytial Virus – RSV – is as severe as COVID-19 or influenza infection, says an investigation by American medical researchers, prompting calls for the illness to be taken more seriously.

Published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, the research investigated adult-aged cohorts across 20 US states between February 2022 and May 2023.

About 8,000 hospital-admitted cases were investigated as part of the study, with lab analysis confirming infection with one of the three diseases, and a mix of vaccination statuses for COVID-19 and influenza.

The group determined RSV was at least as bad as unvaccinated COVID-19 or flu cases. Where a patient was vaccinated against the latter diseases, RSV cases were found to be more than twice as likely to need “advanced respiratory support”.

Nearly 25,000 RSV cases have been confirmed in US lab testing this year.

In Australia, Professor Paul Griffin, director of infectious diseases at Mater Health in Queensland, says mandatory health reporting of RSV as a respiratory infection has only emerged in recent years, highlighting its potential severity within the community.

Vaccines are now beginning to emerge to protect against infection, and Griffin says it’s especially important for young children and the elderly to avoid RSV.

“If you look at what it does, particularly in the highest risk groups – young babies and the elderly – it is a disease that needs to be taken seriously,” Griffin tells Cosmos.

RSV typically causes cold or flu-like symptoms, but can also lead to particularly serious issues such as inflammation of airways in the lungs. It is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children under 1.

“The reason we didn’t talk about it so much was that there was nothing we could do about it, but of course, that’s changed at a very rapid rate right now with a number of vaccines,” Griffin says.

“It is a virus, it’s very serious and we do now need to have high uptake of those interventions to get the maximum benefits.”

RSV might be as severe, but it’s far less common than COVID-19 and the flu. The JAMA study found there are 14 COVID-19 and 2 influenza hospitalisations in America for ever RSV admission.

Arexvy is the only vaccine registered for use in Australia, approved for people aged 60 and over.

Buy cosmos print magazine

Please login to favourite this article.