Respiratory syncytial virus is more serious than the flu in young children

Research Activities, June 2010, No. 358

By the age of 3, nearly all children experience an infection with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). More than 40 percent get the flu (influenza). Both infections can cause a host of respiratory symptoms, some serious enough to require hospitalization. Yet RSV results in a greater disease burden than influenza, including more visits to the emergency department (ED), more hospital admissions, and more lost work days for parents, according to a new study. Researchers identified children 7 years of age and younger who were treated in the ED for acute respiratory infections during two winter seasons. Parents were interviewed at the ED visit and again 7 to 10 days later regarding lost work and school days and medications used to treat the child. Laboratory tests determined if the infection was due to RSV or influenza.

There were twice as many ED visits associated with RSV-caused respiratory infections than influenza infections. Children with RSV had six times as many hospitalizations. Also, RSV infections were twice as likely to require additional primary care clinic visits and antibiotic therapy. Finally, parents of children with RSV missed nearly three times more workdays than parents of children with influenza. This burden was especially significant for parents of children with RSV who were younger than 2 years. They were nearly five times more likely to miss work.

More prevention efforts and infection control measures are needed to curb the spread of RSV and influenza in young children and reduce their disease and economic burdens, suggest the researchers. Their study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (Contract No. 290-00-0020).

See "Relative impact of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus in young children," by Florence T. Bourgeois, M.D., M.P.H., Clarissa Valim, M.D., Sc.D., Alexander J. McAdam, M.D., Ph.D., and Kenneth D. Mandl, M.D., M.P.H., in the December 2009 Pediatrics 124(6), pp. e1072-e1080.

Current as of June 2010
Internet Citation: Respiratory syncytial virus is more serious than the flu in young children: Research Activities, June 2010, No. 358. June 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.