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Treatment May Prevent Wheezing in Pre-Term Babies

But preventing respiratory synctial virus comes with a hefty price tag
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The study was funded by Abbott Laboratories and the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development. Abbott markets palivizumab in some foreign countries.

The researchers set out to determine if RSV was the cause of wheezing illness during the first year of life. Studying 429 babies in the Netherlands, they randomly assigned half to receive a monthly injection of palivizumab during RSV season. The other half received a placebo drug.

The babies in the treatment group had 61 percent fewer days of wheezing during the first year of life. This led the researchers to conclude that RSV is a likely contributor to wheezing illness in this group of children.

The study also found that 21 percent of the babies who received no treatment had recurrent wheezing, compared to 11 percent in those receiving palivizumab. The number of infants who needed medication to treat their wheezing was also less in the palivizumab group, according to the study.

Other than redness and swelling at the injection site, the drug is very well tolerated, Bont said.

The reduction in wheezing comes at a price, however. A season's treatment would likely reach about $10,000 in the United States, Bont said, adding that cost varies from country to country. A child's weight, which determines dosage, also affects the cost of treatment.

"Society needs to define whether its cost-effectiveness is acceptable," Bont said. He said palivizumab should be a standard preventive treatment for premature infants during RSV season.

Lemanske agreed that this is a very expensive intervention. "But if wheezing episodes in pre-term infants are associated with significant [illnesses], then preventing RSV could translate into dollars and cents too," he said. "Whether this will reduce disease risk down the road remains to be seen."

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