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RSV Causes More Hospital Visits than Seasonal Flu


With so much focus on H1N1 and seasonal flu, parents and healthcare providers should be aware that respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has a substantially greater disease impact among young children than does seasonal flu. An analysis by investigators from Children’s Hospital Boston found that RSV results in substantially more hospital visits and hospitalizations for young children than does seasonal flu.

RSV is a respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages. While otherwise healthy individuals recover from RSV in 1 to 2 weeks, the infection can be especially troublesome to certain infants, young children, and older adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children younger than 1 year of age in the United States, and that the virus infects nearly 100 percent of children by three years of age.

The investigators looked at acute respiratory illnesses in children aged 7 and younger and found that those who had been infected with RSV had more than double the number of emergency department visits and six times more hospitalizations than children who had been infected with seasonal flu. More specifically, RSV was credited with 21.5 emergency department visits per 1,000 children as compared with 10.2 per 1,000 for seasonal flu. Children younger than age 2 with RSV had the most visits, 64.4 per 1,000. Estimated hospitalizations rates were 8.5 per 1,000 for RSV versus 1.4 per 1,000 for seasonal flu.

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The investigators also found that illnesses related to RSV were twice as likely to result in additional visits to primary care clinics and to antibiotic treatment. RSV had an impact on parents in a significant way as well, causing them to miss nearly three times more workdays than parents of children with the flu.

The researchers note that although their data were collected from the pre-H1N1 period (2001-2006), their findings highlight the serious nature of RSV and should not be overlooked. One of the study’s authors, Florence Bourgeois, MD, MPH, of Children’s Division of Emergency Medicine and the Children’s Hospital Informatics Program, noted that “RSV has been underappreciated. There’s been disproportionate attention given to influenza, even though our data show morbidity to be very high from RSV.”

Although the study only investigated children age 7 and younger, the researchers note that older people need to be concerned as well. Recent data regarding hospital visits, hospitalization, and mortality indicate that similar to flu, RSV disproportionately affects the elderly. Therefore precautionary measures such as frequent hand washing, using alcohol-based hand wipes, and staying home when ill should be practiced by everyone during every flu season.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Children’s Hospital Boston