RSV: Little-known virus a threat to babies

Respiratory syncytial virus infects the lungs and breathing passages. Healthy people who get it usually experience mild symptoms that resemble those of the common cold, and recover in a week or two. But RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults.

It’s the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia in children younger than 1 year of age, according to the CDC. RSV is associated with an estimated 300 infant deaths per year in the United States and 200,000 infant deaths worldwide. Each year in this country, an estimated 75,000 to 125,000 infants are hospitalized with RSV. Most are younger than 6 months of age.

Researchers at Emory and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta are working on developing a vaccine for RSV, which would be a huge breakthrough.

Marty Moore, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory School of Medicine and a faculty member in the IMP and MMG programs, says there’s been a nationwide effort for decades to create an RSV vaccine, but it has not been successful.

Moore’s team, though, has engineered a vaccine strain that he calls very potent and predicts will be safe. “The next step is to start a clinical trial,’’ he says. The research team has formed a company, and Moore says it has drawn interest from drug companies.

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