RSV virus expected to add pressure on hospitals in many EU/EEA countries this season
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a seasonal virus that recurs throughout the year in Europe with peaks mainly during the autumn, winter, and spring months (October to April), and is a leading cause of acute lower respiratory tract infections in infants and young children. Thirteen EU/EEA Member States have reported a rise in RSV cases between October and 14 November this year.
Worldwide, the virus is estimated to cause 33 million cases and 66 000 to 199 000 deaths of children below five years every year. In the EU, Norway and the United Kingdom, RSV causes an average of 213 000 annual hospitalisations in children under five years.
RSV can also cause serious complications and deaths among adults, particularly those aged 65 years and older. Hospitalisations for adults in the EU, Norway and the United Kingdom are on average 158 000 per year.
In a joint statement on 12 October 2022 by the Directors of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, attention was brought to the risk of potential co-circulation of COVID-19 and influenza putting increased pressure on both hospitals and healthcare workers. High levels of RSV circulation coinciding with peaks of these viruses could therefore add additional pressure on the system.
Common symptoms of RSV include runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and wheezing. Most RSV infections resolve on their own in a week or two, but RSV can also cause more severe infections such as bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the small airways in the lung, and pneumonia, an infection of the lungs.
Nearly all children are infected by RSV by the age of two years, and reinfections are common. Although infection is nearly unavoidable for most children, special efforts should nevertheless be made to protect preterm babies and infants younger than six months old. In addition, toddlers who have not encountered RSV during the COVID-19 pandemic would be at an increased risk of infection.
Therapeutics against severe RSV infection have been approved, and researchers are in the process of developing vaccines.
General prevention measures are the same as for most other respiratory viruses, e.g. exercising proper hygiene measures such as covering your nose and mouth when sneezing, avoiding close contact, and washing hands regularly and using hand sanitizer. Children should not attend childcare centres or be in school, and adults should not go to their workplace if they have symptoms. People with respiratory symptoms should self-isolate at home for 48 hours after the symptoms have resolved.
When possible, parents of children at high risk for developing severe RSV disease should limit the time the child spends in childcare centres or other potentially contagious settings during periods of high RSV activity.
Parents should also help their child to avoid close contact with sick people, to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. These precautions also apply to the elderly.