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Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 2013;372:39-57. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-38919-1_2.

Clinical and epidemiologic features of respiratory syncytial virus.

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Departments of Pediatrics and Medicine, University of Rochester, School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, NY, USA.


Since its discovery in 1955, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has consistently been noted to be the single most important cause of lower respiratory tract illness in infants <1 year of age. RSV also causes repeat infections and significant disease throughout life. In addition to the young child, persons with compromised immune, pulmonary or cardiac systems, and the elderly have significant risk from infection. Though RSV causes the full spectrum of acute respiratory illnesses, it is most notably associated with signs and symptoms of increased airway resistance manifested as wheezing and, in the young child, diagnosed as bronchiolitis. In temperate climates, RSV occurs as yearly outbreaks usually between late fall and early spring lasting 3-4 months in a community. The timing of outbreaks varies between years and in the same year between regions and even between nearby communities. RSV can be a serious nosocomial pathogen in high risk individuals but nosocomial transmission that can often be prevented with meticulous attention to good infection control practices. High risk groups include the premature infants and persons of any age with compromised cardiac, pulmonary, or immune systems. Risk factors for infection include increased number of children in the household and day care center attendance. There are reasonable estimates of the sizable burden of RSV disease in infants and young children and the elderly but less data on disease in older children, the role of RSV in later reactive airway disease (see chapter by M.T. Lotz et al. , this volume), and RSV-associated mortality in developing countries. The available data on burden of disease suggests there are at least four potential target populations for a vaccine, the young infant, young children >4-6 months of age, pregnant women, and the elderly. A link between infection in the young infant and later reactive airway disease and mortality in developing countries is needed. Each target population has different vaccine safety and efficacy concerns and may warrant a different type of vaccine.

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