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J Infect. 1994 Sep;29(2):215-28.

Respiratory syncytial virus infections in human beings and in cattle.

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Department of Herd Health and Reproduction, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.


Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes yearly outbreaks of respiratory disease in human beings and cattle all over the world. Most severe human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV)-associated disease is observed in children less than 1 year of age while most severe bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV)-associated disease is observed in calves less than 6 months of age. Two subgroups of HRSV have been identified. The existence of two subgroups of BRSV has been repeatedly suggested but is not yet well established. BRSV and HRSV are closely related antigenically but antigenic differences have been observed. Seasonal periodicity of RSV infection is usual with highest incidences in autumn and winter. Stress such as caused by movement, crowding and temperature changes are considered to play a role in bovine outbreaks. Human beings and cattle are the natural hosts of HRSV and BRSV, respectively. Primarily infected individuals are the most important source of RSV during outbreaks. The role of other species in the spread of HRSV and BRSV is unknown. Protective efficacy of maternally derived antibodies is considered to be incomplete. Such antibodies do not reduce shedding of virus after HRSV and BRSV infection. RSV is often transmitted by contact with nasal secretions but may also be transmitted by aerosols. Seroprevalence of HRSV and BRSV among adult human beings and cattle is over 70% and is always higher than it is among younger individuals. Both human beings and cattle of all ages may be reinfected with RSV. During BRSV reinfections, signs of respiratory tract disease and shedding of virus are seldom observed whereas these are common during HRSV reinfections. Persistent HRSV and BRSV infections in human beings and cattle have been suggested but have not so far been reported.

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