RSV surge sparks a winter warning

Fearing a tsunami of hospitalisations for RSV-related pneumonia and bronchiolitis, experts are calling for a Nationwide infant RSV immunisation program.

What is RSV?

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a common virus that can cause severe lung infections like pneumonia and bronchiolitis, particularly in young children and the elderly. This winter, experts are warning of a potential surge in RSV cases, which could lead to many hospitalizations.

Current Situation

As of now (May 2024), Australia has seen over 47,000 RSV cases in children under five this year, making up 70% of respiratory infections in this age group. The number of cases is already close to the total recorded last year, with infections expected to rise as the weather gets colder.

“We anticipate RSV infections to climb as temperatures drop. We should also expect a surge in presentations to hospitals among those not protected against severe RSV,” said Dr Lisa McHugh, infectious diseases and perinatal epidemiologist at the University of Queensland.

The Importance of Immunization

The good news is that immunization can significantly reduce the risk of severe RSV infections. Western Australia and Queensland have all-infant RSV immunization programs already and have reported lower hospital admission rates for RSV in babies. Over 10,000 infants in these states have been immunized, preventing many hospital stays.

Catherine Hughes, Founder of the Immunisation Foundation of Australia, emphasizes that infant immunization is crucial. Her personal experience, with her daughter being hospitalized with severe RSV and the loss of her son to whooping cough, highlights the importance of protection through vaccines.

Benefits of a National Immunization Program

Data from Europe and the US shows that infant RSV immunization can reduce hospitalizations by 80-90%. Without immunization, approximately 12,000 Australian babies are hospitalized annually due to RSV, with many requiring intensive care.

Call to Action

Dr Lisa McHugh, an infectious diseases expert, and Catherine Hughes are urging Australians to support RSV protection initiatives. They argue that consistent immunization programs across all states and access to RSV protection for the elderly without high costs are essential. Ms. Hughes and other experts are advocating in Federal Parliament for national RSV immunization programs.

The Immunisation Foundation of Australia is pushing for the inclusion of:

    1. Antibody therapy for infants in their first RSV season and children up to 24 months who are at high risk.
    2. A vaccine for pregnant women to protect newborns from RSV.
    3. A vaccine for people aged 60 and over.

How Parents Can Help

    1. Stay Informed: Understand the symptoms of RSV, which include coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
    2. Vaccinate: If you live in Western Australia or Queensland, take advantage of the immunization programs. Advocate for similar programs in other states.
    3. Hygiene: Teach your children proper handwashing techniques and keep them away from people who are sick.
    4. Support Awareness: Join campaigns and support initiatives like “I Support RSV Protection” to spread awareness.

Protecting your child from RSV is crucial, especially as cases rise in winter. Immunization has proven to be effective in preventing severe cases and hospitalizations. By staying informed and advocating for comprehensive immunization programs, you can help ensure the health and safety of your child and others in the community.

For more information on RSV, visit the Immunisation Foundation of Australia