RSV: It ain't just flu out there

rsvWith H1N1 still very much in the news and seasonal flu getting ready to make its debut, Children’s Hospital Boston doctors are reminding everyone not to overlook another bug that should be getting more attention — respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. A study of children age 7 and younger coming to Children’s Emergency Department with acute respiratory illnesses found that those infected with RSV had more than twice as many emergency department visits and six times more hospitalizations than those with seasonal flu.

“There’s been disproportionate attention given to influenza, even though our data show morbidity to be very high from RSV,” says Florence Bourgeois, MD, MPH, first author of the study, which was just published in Pediatrics. “Based on our data, much more should be done in terms of prevention.”

The study used data from 2001-2006, so it’s unclear how H1N1 might be changing the equation this year. But consider this, too:

  • Parents of children with RSV missed almost three times more workdays than parents of children with seasonal flu.
  • Parents of children under age 2 were nearly five times more likely to miss work when their child had RSV.
  • RSV-related illnesses were twice as likely as seasonal flu to lead to additional clinic visits and antibiotic treatment.

Virtually all children get RSV by the age of 3, and according to the CDC, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in U.S. infants. It’s particularly dangerous in premature infants and those with weakened immune systems. And children aren’t the only ones affected: recent hospitalization and mortality data indicate that RSV disproportionately affects the elderly.

The flu prevention measures we’ve been rigorously adopting – handwashing, alcohol-based hand-sanitizers, and simply staying home when sick — are probably making a difference in the H1N1 epidemic. Just don’t drop them: RSV is only starting to get under way, won’t peak until January, and will be with us until at least April.