By Shawn Gaskell, MilliporeSigma
Hospitalizations related to RSV for 2022 have already surged to unusually high numbers, exceeding the cumulative cases normally reported in late December each year and we are not even a month into the season.
Although no age group is immune to RSV – the respiratory syncytial virus – and the problems it causes, young children are particularly hard hit this year. About four in 1,000 children under six months and more than two in 1,000 children between six months and one year have already been hospitalized.
While many different variables come together to determine the annual impact of RSV, experts have suggested that the pandemic, or rather the end of the pandemic as we knew it, is at least partly to blame. Quarantine, homeschooling and masking practices implemented for most of 2020 and 2021 reduced the spread and risk of serious illness from Covid-19 in children. At the same time, it also reduced the spread of other pathogens and viruses, leaving children’s immune systems essentially without an updated catalog of viruses or the instructions needed to respond to or fight them off.
Now that most families are back to business as usual, viruses like RSV have run wild with our children. Clinical trials of vaccines against RSV are underway – and the results show promising efficacy of 82% against hospital admissions for babies under 90 days and 69% for babies under six months – but with the season well advanced, early detection and access is key to timely medical care that will make the difference this year.
How early detection with RSV testing helps reduce the risk of serious illness
The problem with RSV in children is that early on and in its mildest form it mimics the common cold, flu and even Covid-19 and can cause a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, mild headache, cough, fever, lack of thirst or appetite and general malaise. But at worst, RSV leads to serious infections that can cause pneumonia or bronchiolitis. In very young children, particularly those under six months of age, the necessary treatment for these conditions often requires intravenous fluids, oxygen and, in particularly severe cases, the attachment of a ventilator.
Detecting RSV early — within the first few days of symptom onset — can help ensure they receive appropriate therapeutic treatment, which in turn can reduce their risk of serious illness and hospitalization. Rapid diagnostic RSV tests, performed at a pediatrician’s office, require only a quick nasal swab and typically provide results in less than an hour. These tests are the quickest way to get the information you need and are also available for flu and COVID-19 testing. Some pediatricians may also offer multiplex testing for COVID-19, the flu, and RSV, all with a single swab.
Can you really trust the results of an RSV test?
As with any medical test, there is always a chance that a rapid diagnostic test will give a false positive or false negative result. But it’s important to understand that this doesn’t necessarily mean the tests are unreliable. Test results are often influenced by factors beyond the manufacturer’s control. For example, if the test is performed incorrectly or with too little sample. These types of real-world variations are why it’s so important to use trustworthy and reliable tests and understand what that really means.
The level and assurance of accuracy of rapid diagnostic tests is tied to the various raw material components they contain, and not all tests are created equal. How well a test performs depends on the quality and consistency of each of these components when combined with a robust lateral flow assay and a properly assembled test.
A test kit manufacturer may have the highest quality raw material components within a test, but if the manufacturing process is not properly designed and executed, the test will ultimately fail – simply because one or more of the steps in the path of the sample being tested is defective, the test cannot perform as originally intended get ahead Much like dominoes lined up in a complex path, the dominoes will not complete the path if just one or two of them are out of place or completely missing.
Although MilliporeSigma does not manufacture rapid diagnostic tests, we are a supplier of critical raw materials for lateral flow assays and we understand the importance of consistently delivering high quality materials on time, every time, having done so for decades. And more importantly, because we know who the recipients of the tests we support are: your children.
As we wait for the RSV vaccine — which may be coming soon, but not soon enough — early detection remains the best way to be informed and access appropriate, timely medical care and the support children need to survive Fighting off the worst of the infection can bring. And early detection takes place through a quick nasal swab at the doctor’s.
Shawn Gaskell is director of product management for diagnostic manufacturing materials at MilliporeSigma. Shawn builds key partnerships with IVD and medical device manufacturers to improve service levels and overall customer satisfaction.