Meet flu's rival in kids: respiratory syncytial virus
- Tuesday, November 24th, 2009
By Megan Brooks
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - With all the public's attention focused on flu, particularly H1N1 swine flu, doctors in Boston are warning that another highly contagious seasonal virus takes a substantially greater toll in some ways than does seasonal flu, particularly in young children.
It's respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and it has been "underappreciated," Dr. Florence T. Bourgeois, of Children's Hospital Boston, told Reuters Health by email. RSV is a common virus that most children get by the time they are 2 years old.
"There's been disproportionate attention given to influenza even though our data show (illness) to be high from RSV," Bourgeois said.
For example, over two recent Boston winters, the investigators found that children aged 7 and younger infected with RSV had twice as many ED visits and six times as many hospitalizations for acute respiratory illness as those infected with seasonal flu.
RSV infections were also twice as likely to result in additional trips to the child's pediatrician and in use of antibiotics, they report today in the journal Pediatrics.
"Based on our findings, a much higher emphasis on RSV prevention is warranted," Bourgeois added.
Many of the prevention measures people are now following for the H1N1 virus -- such as frequent hand washing, using alcohol-based hand-sanitizers, and staying home when sick -- apply to other winter viruses as well, including RSV, the researcher noted.
The economic burden of RSV is also high. Parents of children with RSV, the researchers found, missed nearly 3 times more workdays than parents of children with the flu, and parents of children younger than age 2 were nearly 5 times more likely to miss work when their child had RSV.
During 5 consecutive flu seasons, the Boston team found there were, on average, almost 5,300 annual ED trips for acute respiratory illness among children aged 7 and under. Nearly a quarter of those trips were due to RSV, compared with about 11 percent for influenza.
At the national level, there were an estimated 10.2 visits per 1,000 children for seasonal flu compared with 21.5 visits per 1,000 children for RSV.
Children younger than 2 with RSV had the most ED visits -- 64.4 per 1,000, compared with 15.0 per 1,000 children in this age group infected with influenza.
RSV season started in October, but doesn't peak until January and can last through the spring, "so we are likely to see more of it in the coming months," Bourgeois warned.
H1N1 may turn out to be more severe than the seasonal flu, so the differences between it and RSV may not be as great as those between RSV and the seasonal flu, Bourgeois said. Still, "our results are a reminder that even after the H1N1 epidemic begins to fade, we shouldn't relax our public health vigilance for other seasonal viruses," she noted.