Respiratory illness during winter: A cohort study of urban children from temperate Australia


Dr Stephen Lambert, School of Population Health, Level 5/207 Bouverie Street, University of Melbourne, Vic. 3010, Australia. Fax: +61 3 9348 1827; email:


Objective:  To examine the epidemiology and burden of respiratory illness during winter in urban children from temperate Australia.

Methods:  We conducted a cohort study of healthy Melbourne children, aged from 12 to 71 months. Parents kept a daily respiratory symptom diary and recorded resource use when an influenza-like illness (ILI) occurred.

Results:  One-hundred and eighteen children had 137 ILI episodes over 12 weeks for a rate of 0.53 ILI episodes per child-month (95% CI 0.44–0.61). Risk factors for ILI included younger age, fewer people residing in the household, structured exposure to other children outside the home, and a higher household income. Episodes had a mean duration of 10.4 days with 64 visits to a general practitioner (46.7 GP visits per 100 episodes), 27 antibiotic courses prescribed (19.7 antibiotic courses per 100 episodes), and three overnight hospitalizations (2.2 admissions per 100 episodes). Parents reported an average of 11.7 h excess time spent caring for a child per episode.

Conclusions:  Respiratory illnesses are a common and largely neglected cause of illness in Australian children. Pathogen-specific data are required to better assess the likely impact of available and developing vaccines and other treatment options.