Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a relatively common virus that can cause both upper and lower respiratory infections.

Many cases are mild, with symptoms similar to a cold. RSV can cause serious infections, such as pneumonia, in adults and children.

RSV infections during pregnancy aren’t considered common. In fact, a 2022 review reported that about 0.2 in 100 pregnancies are affected by RSV.

Read on to learn the common questions and answers about RSV and pregnancy. Consider using the information as a starting point to discuss the virus and its potential impacts on both pregnant people and their infants with a doctor.

Older children and healthy adults may have mild symptoms from RSV infection and recover within 2 weeks. Most pregnant persons also have mild infections. But there are possible complications to consider, including early delivery and preeclampsia.

While research found cases of RSV-related respiratory infections in pregnant persons, no miscarriages or deaths were reported.

A 2020 study found complications, such as pneumonia and sepsis, in pregnant people. This same study revealed dangerous effects on infants, leading to preterm delivery in some cases.

An RSV vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for pregnant people in August 2023.

It’s a single-dose vaccine recommended for individuals who are 32 to 36 weeks pregnant. The goal of the vaccine is to help prevent RSV transmission to infants while also decreasing the risk of hospitalization from infection-related complications.

At the same time, the FDA notes that there was a small but serious risk of preeclampsia or preterm birth associated with the vaccine during clinical trials. It’s important to discuss the risks versus benefits with your doctor.

It’s possible to pass respiratory viruses, such as RSV, to your unborn baby while pregnant. The severity of any resulting infection can vary. Premature infants and babies with weakened immune systems are more likely to have severe RSV.

Your doctor may recommend RSV vaccination to help protect both you and your baby. Vaccinations can help increase antibody levels while pregnant, but these antibodies may also be passed on to your baby through the placenta.

Aside from the risk of passing RSV to a fetus during pregnancy, it’s also possible to transmit the virus after the birth of your baby.

While most children experience an RSV infection before the age of 2, infections that develop in infants less than 5 months old are more likely to be hospitalized. This emphasizes the need to help reduce transmission to young babies.

Not only can getting vaccinated during pregnancy help reduce the risk of transmission, but you can also help keep your baby healthy by washing your hands and cleaning common surfaces more frequently.

While your newborn child’s pediatrician may recommend certain vaccines, RSV vaccination isn’t yet available for this age group. An alternative option for infants and high risk children includes monoclonal antibodies.

In August 2023, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended this option for all infants under 8 months of age, as well as older babies, to help prevent severe RSV infections. These include nirsevimab (Beyfortus) and palivizumab (Synagis).

Monoclonal antibodies are human-made substances that help boost the immune system against certain threats, such as RSV.

Currently, the CDC recommends a single dose for infants before their first RSV season and a second dose the following season for high risk babies.

Research on RSV and its effects on pregnancy, infancy, and immunocompromised persons is ongoing. Other factors, such as race and socioeconomic status, are also being investigated.

A 2022 review examined the relationship between race and the increased risk of respiratory illnesses, such as RSV. They hypothesize that some of the reasons for this higher risk could be factors such as increased incidence of asthma and other chronic conditions in these populations.

Another 2022 review found that Black infants account for 26% of RSV-related infant deaths, and Hispanic infants account for 22% of RSV-related infant deaths. This review concludes that knowing the rate of death might help estimate risk in these populations.

More research is needed on this end to determine whether Babies of Color may be at a higher risk for RSV.

A special note

Most of the research on RSV has limited or no participants from underserved populations, even though the CDC reports that Black mothers and infants have a higher mortality risk than other populations.

To understand better how RSV affects these communities, more racial diversity in clinical trials is needed.

Was this helpful?

RSV is a common virus, but it can pose a risk of more severe infections in certain groups. This includes infants who might contract the virus during pregnancy or shortly after delivery. There’s also a risk of complications for pregnant people, including preeclampsia.

While pediatricians have long sounded the alarm about higher hospitalization rates from RSV among infants, two major developments made in 2023 can help protect babies from severe infection. The first consists of RSV vaccines for pregnant people.

And, while there isn’t a vaccine for infants just yet, monoclonal antibodies can be given to infants and older babies considered to be at high risk for developing severe RSV infections.

Talk with your doctor about these options to help protect you and your baby during pregnancy and beyond.