Background: Little is known about the epidemiology of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection in arid desert regions and in the Aboriginal population. We describe the seasonality and epidemiology of RSV infection in Central Australia, an arid area with a large Aboriginal population.
Methods: Five-year retrospective study from 2000 through 2004 of children less than 2 years old admitted to Alice Springs Hospital with documented RSV infection.
Results: RSV infection was documented in 173 children <2 years old admitted over a 5-year period, 165 community-acquired and 8 nosocomial. The annual incidence rate of community-acquired RSV infection in hospitalised Central Australian children <2 years old was 20.4 per 1000. The rate in Aboriginal children of 29.6 per 1000 children was significantly greater than in non-Aboriginal children of 10.9 per 1000 (P < 0.0001). Associated risk factors were common; 52% of infected children had at least one other comorbidity. Younger children had more severe illness and longer duration of hospital stay. RSV-related illness peaked in winter but infections occurred throughout the year, and the winter predominance was less marked than in temperate climates.
Conclusions: In the arid, desert region of Central Australia, RSV infection occurs throughout the year, but is more frequent in winter and more common in Aboriginal children. These data are important for understanding RSV epidemiology in desert regions, and for planning active or passive RSV immunoprophylaxis in these and other similar populations.