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What is palivizumab used for?

Palivizumab (Synagis) is a shot that helps prevent serious lung infections caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV is very contagious. It is spread by contact with infected fluids from the nose or mouth and through droplets in the air from coughing. Most children have gotten RSV by the time they are 2 years old.

RSV infections generally occur in the US from November to April.

Usually, RSV causes mild symptoms, such as a runny nose and fever. But babies born early and babies with lung or heart problems have a higher risk of getting very sick if they get infected with RSV.

Palivizumab is given to children less than 1 year old at high risk for serious complications from RSV. These children include:

  • Premature babies born 11 or more weeks before their due date
  • Premature babies who were born 8 or more weeks before their due date, have lung disease, and needed oxygen after they were born
  • Babies who have heart problems and who will need heart surgery
  • Children with other heart, lung, immune, or muscle problems that increase the chance of lung infections

In some cases, palivizumab may be given to children up to 2 years old if they have immune system problems or continue to require medical treatment for lung problems.

This medicine is not a treatment for children who already have an RSV infection.

The shot may be given with other routine immunizations. A child may need a shot every month during RSV season to be fully protected.

How does it work?

Palivizumab contains virus-fighting antibodies. Full-term babies get antibodies from their mothers during pregnancy. These antibodies help babies fight RSV and other infections. Babies born prematurely often do not get enough of these antibodies before birth, and their lungs are not well developed. It's harder for these babies and other young children at high risk to fight infections and keep infections from getting serious. Palivizumab helps these children fight RSV infection.

What else do I need to know about this medicine?

Ask your healthcare provider about palivizumab. Insurance companies will pay for treatment only if a baby meets specific criteria. Your healthcare provider will have the most recent recommendations.

Written by Robert M. Brayden, MD, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2017-04-11
Last reviewed: 2018-05-09
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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