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Respiratory syncytial virus infection and recurrent wheeze/asthma in children under five years: An epidemiological survey


Dr Peter Barnett, Deputy Director, Department of Emergency Medicine, RCH, Flemington Rd, Parkville, Vic. 3052, Australia. Fax: +61 03 9345 5938; email:


Aim:  To determine the rates of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection in children under 5 years of age with recurrent wheeze or asthma and compare their clinical presentation, course and outcome with asthmatic children of the same age who did not have RSV.

Methods:  Children were recruited prospectively from the emergency department of the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne during peak RSV season in 1998. Information was collected regarding past and current asthma presentations, a nasopharyngeal asprirate was taken for viral isolation and all children were reviewed by telephone 1 week following presentation.

Results:  73 children were included with a median age of 28 months. RSV was isolated from 33 (45%) of children, one child had adenovirus and in the remainder no virus was isolated. Children less than 12 months were more likely to have RSV (70%). RSV-positive children had a longer duration of illness prior to hospital presentation than RSV-negative children but were not more likely to be admitted or to have a longer duration of ongoing symptoms.

Conclusion:  A high rate of RSV infection was demonstrated in young children with recurrent wheeze or asthma during the RSV season. This information has important implications for the control of nosocomial infection with RSV (i.e. isolation of patients) and in targeting another group to be included for RSV vaccine development.