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Can you get vaccinated in Austria for the respiratory illness RSV?

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
Can you get vaccinated in Austria for the respiratory illness RSV?
A child receives a vaccine. (Photo by CDC on Pexels)

Cases of the respiratory illness RSV have increased in Austria, with experts calling it an 'epidemic'. But can you and your children get the vaccine?

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In Austria, epidemic outbreaks of RSV infections occur every year, with a peak incidence in November to March, and the number of inpatient admissions with a diagnosis for the respiratory illness has jumped at the turn of the year, doubling from mid-December to mid-January, data from Austria's Health Ministry shows. 

Babies and older adults are particularly at risk. "Every year, more than 50,000 children are infected with the virus in their first year of life, and in around a quarter of them, it even reaches the deep respiratory tract. As a result, more than 1,000 children a year have to be hospitalised because of RSV," said virologist Dr. Monika Redlberger-Fritz from MedUni Vienna's Department of Virology in a press release. 

READ ALSO: Are vaccinations compulsory for children in Austria?

What is RSV?

The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is an RNA virus that causes respiratory diseases. Transmission occurs primarily through droplet infection. Indirect transmission via hands, objects and surfaces contaminated with the virus is also possible, and there is an incubation period of two to eight days. 

The infection can be asymptomatic but can also lead to a lower respiratory tract disease requiring ventilation, according to Austria's Health Agency AGES. Children under the age of five, especially infants under six months, and adults over the age of 65, as well as certain groups of people with health conditions, are at higher risk of developing severe infection.

Symptoms of RSV infection usually include runny nose, reduced appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever and a high-pitched, whistling lung sound when breathing. These symptoms do not occur all at once but in different phases. In very young infants, an RSV infection can manifest itself in irritability, reduced activity and breathing difficulties.

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Almost all children experience an RSV infection in their first two years of life. The first infection in infants and young children can cause severe inflammation of the bronchi (bronchiolitis), AGES said.

In young children, RSV infection is the most common reason for hospitalisation during the winter months, according to Austria's Health Portal Gesundheit.gv.at.

On average, one infected person infects three others. Re-infections can occur at any age, although the course of the disease can vary in severity. In adults, an infection can also occur without symptoms.

READ ALSO: Can children under the age of 18 be naturalised in Austria?

How can we get a vaccine?

From autumn 2023, Austria has made available a vaccine that is also approved for the passive protection of newborns by vaccinating pregnant women (from 24 to 36 weeks' gestation) so that the antibodies can be transferred to the baby. 

There are also available vaccines for people from the age of 60 and for those who are particularly at risk due to health reasons. This includes persons with severe organ diseases, people with cancer, persons with immunodeficiency or other serious underlying diseases, heavily overweight people, persons with an HIV infection or other immunosuppressive diseases, and people cared for in retirement and nursing homes. 

Both vaccines that exist in Austria and are recommended need to be paid for privately and cost around €275, according to a Kurier report. Vaccination should occur before the RSV wave's onset, ideally in September or October.

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What about other small children?

There is currently no approved RSV vaccine for children for so-called active immunisation. For babies and infants, passive immunisation (prophylaxis) is possible through so-called monoclonal antibodies. 

However, this type of treatment is recommended for children with a very high risk of a severe course of the infection, "not least because of the high costs involved", according to a study by Med Uni Wien. That would include infants or children with heart disease or premature babies.

This type of preventive treatment is an intramuscular injection that must be administered monthly. 

READ ALSO: How can I get a Covid or flu vaccine in Austria this autumn?

According to the Medical University, another type of "passive immunisation", which only needs to be administered once per season, is expected to be available later this year. 

How can I avoid infection?

Since vaccination is limited, it's important to note that simple hygiene measures help prevent the spread of viruses such as RSV, influenza, and coronavirus. 

This includes, according to Austria's health portal, washing your hands regularly, coughing and sneezing "properly" (covering your mouth and nose with your elbows or tissue), cleaning objects, including shared toys and wearing a mask in large crowds or when in contact with people at risk. 

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