The impact of respiratory syncytial virus on the NHS, society and economy in the UK

Asian baby with a breathing device, photo by mikumistock/Adobe Stock


Researchers estimate the total economic impact of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) to be around £80 million each year, based on a rapid evidence assessment to model the disease's wider societal and economic burden in the UK.

What is the issue?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common virus which causes acute lower respiratory tract infections, particularly in children aged under five. Worldwide, RSV is one of the leading causes of infant mortality in children under the age of one. While symptoms are often mild, some individuals are at higher risk of developing a more severe infection which can be fatal. Incidents of long-term respiratory health issues as a result of an RSV infection are also emerging.

RSV poses a significant burden on the healthcare system, on children and their parents or caregivers, and on the economy in the UK. Methods used to arrive at estimates of burden have varied and there were gaps in evidence, particularly about the economic impacts of RSV on parents and carers and the economy in the UK. Further research was needed to understand the degree and diversity of burden.

How did we help?

RAND Europe and the University of Cambridge, as part of the work of our Cambridge Centre for Health Services Research collaboration, were commissioned by Sanofi to conduct independent research to understand the burden of RSV in children aged under five on society (especially patients and their parents and carers), the National Health Service and the economy in the UK.

To do this, carried out a rapid evidence assessment and modelling to estimate the wider societal and economic burden of RSV in the UK. The structure, data and assumptions of the economic model were informed by the literature identified during the rapid evidence assessment.

What did we find?

  • There are around 467,000 visits to GPs (primary care physicians) and 34,000 hospitalisations each year in the UK due to children under 5 being ill with RSV.
  • Fatalities are comparatively rare but nevertheless an estimated 33 children under 5 in the UK die from RSV each year.
  • The economic impact of RSV in children under 5 in the UK each year is estimated at about £14 million in lost productivity of parents and carers; £1.5 million of their out-of-pocket costs; and £65 million of healthcare costs. Thus, the total economic cost is estimated to be around £80 million each year.