Respiratory Infections Major Cause of Childhood Deaths

FRIDAY April 16, 2010 -- As many as 200,000 children under age 5 die worldwide each year because of acute lower-respiratory tract infections caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a new study finds. The researchers called for new prevention and treatment strategies to reduce this major cause of death in young children.

The Scottish team analyzed available data and concluded that in 2005 there were 33.8 million new episodes of RSV-associated acute lower-respiratory tract infections (ALRIs) among children under age 5 (22 percent of all ALRI cases). At least 3.4 million of the cases among those children were severe and required hospital admission, and an estimated 66,000 to 199,000 of the children died, with 99 percent of the deaths occurring in developing countries.

The case fatality ratio (the proportion of hospitalized children who die) among children in high-income countries was 0.7 percent for those younger than 1 year old and 0.3 percent for those under age 5. In developing countries, the case fatality ratio was 2.1 percent for both children younger than 1 year and children under age 5, according to the report.

"Globally, RSV is the most common cause of childhood ALRI and a major cause of admission to hospital as a result of severe ALRI. Mortality data suggest that RSV is an important cause of death in childhood from ALRI, after pneumococcal pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzae type b," wrote Dr. Harish Nair of the Center for Population Health Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, and colleagues.

"The development of novel prevention and treatment strategies should be accelerated as a priority," they stated. "Until the widespread delivery of an effective RSV vaccine, measures such as promotion of health service use, provision of regular oxygen supplies at health centers and hospitals, and immunoprophylaxis with monoclonal antibodies (when appropriate and affordable) can be expected to substantially reduce mortality associated with this disease."

The study findings were released online April 16 in advance of print publication in an upcoming issue of The Lancet.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about RSV.

Posted: April 2010


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