Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic October 21, 2009 - 3:34 pm

Costly shots urged to protect Inuit infants from RSV

$7,000 injections cheaper for Nunavut than hospital, medevac: pediatricians

JANE GEORGE

All Inuit babies should routinely get a costly series of injections to protect them against the respiratory syncytial virus, the Canadian Pediatric Association says in a new set of recommendations.

The $7,000-per-child cost of administering the preventive palivizumab injections would still amount to far less than the cost of hospital stays and medevacs, which run into many thousands of dollars each for children requiring specialized medical care for RSV, medical experts say.

A 2003 study found the cost of treating serious lung ailments in Nunavut was $11,915 per baby when they were transported to Iqaluit, and $68,679 per child for those sent to Ottawa.

Palivizumab protects babies against RSV, a respiratory virus that is spread through coughing and sneezing or direct contact with someone who has the virus.

RSV can lead to a stuffy nose, fever, difficulty in breathing and poor feeding.

And, as the lungs fill with mucus, it’s harder for babies to breathe, eat and drink. Without medical intervention, such as a breathing tube into their lungs and intravenous liquids, babies can die.

The Canadian Pediatric Association’s new recommendations say that children in isolated northern or rural remote communities who require air transportation to hospital facilities and who born prematurely, should routinely receive the injections if they are younger than six months of age at the onset of RSV season “given the increased incidence and severity of RSV and the costs associated with hospitalization.”

The pediatric association also says consideration should be given to administering the injections to all full-term Inuit infants younger than six months at the onset of the RSV season in northern remote communities, regardless of gestational age.

Until now injections of palivizumab have only been given to premature babies or to those with heart ailments.

Quebec hasn’t routinely offered this preventive RSV treatment to Nunavik infants due to its cost and because Canada wouldn’t pay for it until the Canadian Pediatric Association came out in favour of more preventive action.

Medical researchers also say infants who fall ill with RSV and possibly suffer permanent lung damage, will be more susceptible to picking up respiratory viruses such as swine flu.

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