kklugman1_DANIEL BELOUMOU OLOMOAFP via Getty Images_babyhospitalafrica Daniel Beloumou Olomo/AFP via Getty Images

A Child Killer Meets Its Match

Pediatricians and many parents have long dreaded Respiratory Syncytial Virus, and for good reason. But owing to major investments over the past 15 years, we are now on the cusp of finally developing and securing approval for the tools we need to protect infants.

SEATTLE – Like many others, I spent much of the last few years in isolation to avoid getting sick. And now we are learning that this widespread disappearing act produced some unexpected side effects. In particular, infections from once-common illnesses – like influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) – plummeted.

But now, as much of the world has returned to its normal pre-pandemic rhythms, that brief respite is over. RSV, a dangerous infection that kills more than 100,000 young children each year, has returned with a vengeance. Several countries, including South Africa and Australia, have recorded major RSV outbreaks, and hospitals in the United States are filled with babies who are struggling to breathe.

The alarming uptick in RSV cases bodes ill for the winter months in the northern hemisphere, especially with an expected bad flu season. Yet while RSV can result in serious illness, like pneumonia, for very young children everywhere, it is rarely fatal in high-income countries like the US. Over 97% of deaths due to RSV occur in low- and middle-income countries – a glaring disparity that has made the disease one of the leading killers of newborns and young children in these countries.

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