Respiratory therapists who work with infants and children know respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) disease is easily spread from child to child. But are preterm infants more likely to get the severe form of the disease than their full term counterparts?
Some experts have said no, but a new study in PLoS One suggests the answer is yes.
First of its kind
The study, which took place over two RSV seasons at 188 U.S. clinical sites, was conducted among 1642 infants who were born between 32 and 35 weeks gestational age (wGA).
RSV treated in the outpatient setting increased as the infants got older and was consistently higher in those with exposure to young children, suggesting preterm infants may be more susceptible to the disease.
Exposure to young children increased the RSV risk among the younger infants in the study as well, although the major risk factor for hospitalization and ICU admission among that group was young age and the anatomical and physiologic vulnerabilities, such as smaller airways and more immature immunologic responses, that come with it.
RSV hospitalization and ICU rates were highest among the youngest infants in the study who were born in February and were exposed to young children.
The authors note their study is the first to provide “continuous age-based risk models for outpatient and inpatient disease for infants with and without young child exposure.” They also believe the absolute risk estimates contained in their work are more accurate than those previously derived from administrative databases.
Targeted efforts are needed
The data gathered in this study should help inform both estimates of RSV risk in preterm infants and the need for interventions aimed at lowering that risk.
According to the investigators, “These data demonstrate that higher risk for 32 to 35 wGA infants can be easily identified by age or birth month and significant exposure to other young children. These infants would benefit from targeted efforts to prevent severe RSV disease.”
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