Cold virus killed 100,000 children globally in 2019

Cold virus killed 100,000 children globally in 2019
RSVImage source,
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The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common single-RNA stranded virus that causes infected cells to fuse together

A common virus that usually causes cold-like symptoms has killed more than 100,000 children under five globally in 2019, research has found.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) was particularly deadly in the very young, with 45% of those cases occurring in children under six months old.

Almost all the deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries.

Experts are calling for a vaccine to be developed and prioritised to these vulnerable groups.

A 'rebound' of cases

In a normal year, RSV is responsible for 20,000 hospital admissions in the under-ones in the UK.

It is easy to treat, but without medical intervention it can become much more serious.

Deaths due to RSV dipped during the Covid-19 pandemic as social contact was reduced.

But Professor Harish Nair, of the University of Edinburgh, who co-authored the study, said we are now seeing "a rebound" in cases as normal life resumes.

"Covid-19 restrictions are easing around the world and the majority of the young children born in the last two years have never been exposed to RSV - and therefore have no immunity against this virus."

What is RSV and how to spot it?

'Optimal solution'

Dr You Li, co-author of the study, said the number of RSV cases was not a surprise, but they had not expected the deaths in the community outside hospital to be so high.

Overall, the study estimated that three-quarters of RSV deaths occurred outside hospital.

Dr Li said the high RSV death rate in low and middle-income communities was due to high population density, poor living conditions and limited access to health care.

He said: "In some resource-poor settings, for every RSV death found in a hospital, there can be as many as 13 more RSV deaths in the community. RSV immunisation in low and middle-income communities would be an optimal solution to the prevention of RSV infections."

Currently, several immunisation products and programmes are in advanced clinical development.

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