Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infects the lungs and breathing passages, and, in the United States, nearly all children have been infected with RSV by age two. In healthy people, symptoms of RSV infection are usually mild and resolve within a week. However, RSV can cause serious illness or death in vulnerable individuals, including premature and very young infants, children with chronic lung disease or congenital heart disease, and people who are over age 65. In the U.S., RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lungs) in children younger than one year old and causes approximately 58,000 hospitalizations among children under five annually. RSV infection is estimated to cause about 14,000 annual deaths in U.S. adults over age 65. Globally, RSV affects an estimated 64 million people and causes 160,000 deaths each year.
NIAID conducts and supports basic research on RSV to improve understanding of the virus and how it causes disease, as well as factors in animals and humans that affect susceptibility to RSV infection. Research is also underway to develop vaccines to prevent RSV.
NIAID-funded basic and clinical studies helped establish the fundamental knowledge necessary for the private sector to develop protein vaccines. These vaccines are safe and effective at preventing severe RSV in some target populations.
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For more than 50 years, NIAID’s commitment to RSV research has been unparalleled. NIAID researchers were the first to identify and characterize RSV and have provided fundamental knowledge that improves our understanding, treatment, and prevention of RSV disease. NIAID basic research has led to the only preventive treatment currently available for RSV and given us new techniques to manipulate the virus that have brought us closer to a safe and effective vaccine.