RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) 1, 2, 3, 4
Recently there has been a lot of buzz in the media about the RSV in the winters of 2022 and 2023. What exactly is RSV? Do we need to worry about it? In this issue, we will briefly share with you information about RSV.
What is RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus)?
RSV is a virus that specifically infects the respiratory tract. Since the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, health agencies and media around the world have been paying increased attention to the activity of influenza virus and RSV. But in fact, RSV has been around for a long time, and it is by no means a recent discovery. It is also widespread throughout the world, including developed countries with high hygienic standards like Canada. Like the influenza virus, RSV is most active from the winter season to spring every year.
How Do You Catch the RSV?
Like COVID-19 and influenza viruses, RSV can be spread easily through air droplet transmission. Symptoms usually appear 2 to 8 days after infection and can last about a week.
RSV causes symptoms that are very similar to influenza and COVID-19: cough, runny nose, possibly fever, fatigue, and difficulty breathing. But unlike the flu or COVID-19 viruses, RSV does not cause a sore throat nor loss of taste or smell. Since the natural immunity period after each infection is very short, it is possible to have repeated infection of RSV every year, but the symptoms usually become milder after each subsequent infection.
Who Is At High Risk for RSV?
Most children are likely to have been infected by RSV before the age of 2. Most RSV infections do not cause serious illness, but 2% of children under 2 years old who are infected with RSV may need treatment in hospital.
The following populations are at higher risk for serious complications from RSV:
-Children under 2 years old with respiratory diseases or weakened immune systems
-Elderly people aged 65 and above
-People of any age with respiratory diseases, heart problems, or who are immunocompromised
How to Prevent RSV
The easiest way to prevent getting RSV is by wearing a mask in crowded places and washing or disinfecting hands before touching your face.
Health Canada has now approved two monoclonal antibodies that can prevent RSV (Palivizumab, Nirsevimab) in premature infants and children under 2 years old with respiratory diseases or weakened immune systems. These antiviral monoclonal antibodies are directly injected into the body, so they are actually not categorized as vaccines. Infants need to be evaluated by a doctor to be high-risk in order to be eligible for these injections. It is important to note that monoclonal antibodies can only prevent (not treat) RSV.
Health Canada has also just approved a vaccine to prevent RSV in 2023 - AREXVY (produced by GSK Pharmaceuticals) for people aged 65 or over. AREXVY, like other respiratory vaccines, is injected intramuscularly and requires only one dose. No prescription is required for this vaccine. The protection rate after one dose is around 75%. Because it is a brand new vaccine, current data only shows that the effective protection period is two years, awaiting pending data for long term protection. Elderly people who are at high risk and aged 65 or above can consult a doctor or pharmacist to see they are suitable for AREXVY vaccination. So far, the side effects of AREXVY are mild. Just like any vaccination, there may be pain in the injection site after vaccination, and there is a low chance of mild fever or body aches.
There are currently no medications for treating RSV infection. If you are diagnosed with RSV infection, you just need to rest at home and take over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms such as fever or cough.