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Understanding the burden of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Understanding the burden of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Credit: Adobe

Sanofi

6 min read Partner content

General Manager at Sanofi Vaccines UK and Ireland, Rebecca Catterick, and Baroness Margaret Ritchie discuss the impact of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in our society, with ideas on how it can be mitigated through enhanced understanding and proactive approaches to treatment.

 The localised impact of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) on infants, families and the NHS

Rebecca Catterick, General Manager, Sanofi Vaccines UK and Ireland    

RSV is a respiratory virus that impacts nearly all infants by the age of two.[i] While in most cases the virus is mild,[ii] it can also lead to more severe complications as the leading cause of bronchiolitis in infants.[iii]

The Royal College of Physicians has stated how the cost-of-living crisis could negatively impact population health in the 2022-23 winter season, with access to heating, healthier foods and travel to medical appointments restricted.[iv] Combined with the expected surge in respiratory virus transmissions this winter,[v] NHS services may be under pressure to provide the necessary support infants and families impacted by RSV require.

At Sanofi, we recognise the impact that COVID-19 has had on the NHS and the additional difficulty of managing forthcoming winter seasons as COVID-19 potentially co-circulates with flu, RSV and other respiratory viruses.[vi] Using Hospital Episode Statistics data, we have been able to highlight the impact of RSV at the constituency level to support in understanding the burden RSV places on local health systems.

In the last pre-pandemic year in England (April 2019 to March 2020), children under five with RSV were admitted for a total of 107,451 bed daysvii which, on average, cost local health services in each constituency £139,792.[vii] Costs in some constituencies were as high as £478,119, however some were as low as £50,139.vii This variation shows the regional disparities of the RSV burden. 

Despite this burden, RSV is under-recognised by the general population.[viii] Furthermore, a lack of data on the prevalence of the virus means that the burden of RSV in infants and children could be greater than estimates suggest.[ix]

Enhanced understanding of RSV could contribute to increased prioritisation across the NHS, while also enhancing the care that infants and their families receive.


To learn more about RSV, please visit: TogetherAgainstRSV.co.uk

This article was fully funded, initiated and written by Sanofi.

MAT-XU-2204719(v1.0) November 2022


 Understanding the burden of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and the importance of a proactive approach to supporting the NHS and patients

Baroness Margaret Ritchie

I come to the subject of RSV as someone who had pneumonia as a two month old baby in the late 1950’s followed by regular bouts of bronchitis which left a periodic wheeze – this then developed into asthma which is controlled by inhalers.

RSV is a common virus that can cause acute lower respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis.[x] An RSV infection usually causes mild and self-limiting symptoms in children and adults which resolve within a couple of weeks.[xi] However, RSV-related bronchiolitis can also lead to more severe complications.[xii]

RSV has a significant impact on the NHS, with over 30,000 infants and children under five being hospitalised in the UK each year.[xiv] The burden of RSV is also felt within primary care; in research recently commissioned and funded by Sanofi, RAND Europe estimated RSV is attributable to over 467,000 GP visits and 235,000 NHS 111 calls in the UK in children under five.[v] This translates into approximately £65 million in annual direct healthcare costs in the UK.xv

In examining the impact of RSV on our society and economy, I think the UK Government now need to concentrate on political and financial solutions which I hope will enable the introduction of a proactive approach to diagnostics, testing, vaccinations and medicines to address the severe respiratory issues. Current medical trials and their results need to be accelerated to enable doctors and those in the medical and nursing profession to support young infants and older adults with RSV.

Particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lessons learnt from it, it is important that the Prime Minister and the UK Government provide immediate impetus to the implementation of a strategy to address RSV through diagnostics, testing, dedicated vaccination programmes and medicines, and also to ensure that the new research is made available to clinicians and decision makers. All of this will require dedicated funding and resources to mitigate the impact of RSV on individuals, the NHS, workplace and wider society. I will continue to pursue these issues in the House of Lords.


This article was funded and initiated by Sanofi and reviewed by Sanofi for compliance. Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick contributed this article and retained full editorial control.


[i] Wennergren, G, & Kristjånsson, S. (2001) Relationship between respiratory syncytial virus bronchiolitis and future obstructive airway diseases. Eur Respir J 18:1044–1058 doi:10.1183/09031936.01.00254101.

[ii] Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV): Overview. Mayo Clinic website https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/respiratory-syncytial-virus/symptoms-causes/syc-20353098 Accessed November 2022

[iii] Pickles, R.J, DeVincenzo, J.P (2014) Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and its propensity for causing bronchiolitis. The Journal of Pathology. 2015 Jan; 235(2): 266–276. DOI: 10.1002/path.4462 PMCID: PMC5638117

[iv] Iacobucci G. (2022) Rising cost of living is damaging people’s health, says royal college BMJ; 377 :o1231 doi:10.1136/bmj.o123

[v] Morgan-Bentley, P., Lay, K. and Gibbons, K. (2022) What is RSV? parents warned as respiratory virus cases surge among children, News | The Times. The Times. Available at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/what-is-rsv-parents-warned-as-respiratory-virus-cases-surge-among-children-p6hkgj8q9 Accessed November 2022

[vi] UK HSA (2022) Vaccine update: issue 332, October 2022, flu special edition, available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/vaccine-update-issue-332-october-2022-flu-special-edition/vaccine-update-issue-332-october-2022-flu-special-edition Accessed November 2022

[vii] Sanofi (2022) Data on File: RSV Burden Local Data

[viii] Wilcox, C, et al, (2019), Attitudes of Pregnant Women and Healthcare Professionals Toward Clinical Trials and Routine Implementation of Antenatal Vaccination Against Respiratory Syncytial Virus: A Multicenter Questionnaire Study. The Paediatric Infectious Disease Journal 38(9): 944-951,

[ix] Drysdale S.B, et al. (2016), RSV Vaccine use – the missing data, Expert Review of Vaccines, Oxford Vaccine Group, UK, 15, 2, 149-152.

[x] CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). “Learn About Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV.” CDC. As of November 2022: https://www.cdc.gov/rsv/index.html.

[xi] NHS England, Bronchiolitis: Overview, available at: Accessed November 2022.

[xii] Drysdale, S.B, et al, (2016), “Best practice in the prevention and management of paediatric respiratory syncytial virus infection.” Therapeutic advances in infectious disease vol. 3,2 63-71. doi:10.1177/2049936116630243. Accessed November 2022.

[xiv] Vaccine Knowledge Project (2020), Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Accessed November 2022.

[xv] Fusco, F, et al. (2022) The burden of respiratory syncytial virus: Understanding impacts on the NHS, society and economy. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation. Accessed November 2022.

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