Research links virus to high rates of childhood pneumonia
Research into respiratory infection among young children in New Zealand has highlighted one particular virus as a leading cause of high rates of hospitalisation.
The study, which is being presented in a workshop at the annual New Zealand Immunisation Conference in Auckland, has found that approximately 40% of hospitalisations among young children for acute respiratory infection can be attributed to Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).
ESR epidemiologist and Auckland University doctoral student Namrata Prasad says the research, which used data from the Shivers (Southern Hemisphere Influenza and Vaccine Effectiveness Research and Surveillance) study, confirms overseas research that shows a large number of cases of respiratory infection are connected to RSV.
The virus is the leading cause of pneumonia and bronchiolitis, the two most frequent types of lower respiratory tract infections affecting infants and young children.
Findings from the study, published recently in the UK journal Epidemiology & Infection, also show that RSV hospitalisation rates among New Zealand children under five years old are almost twice as high as comparative rates from Australia and USA, with the highest rates among children aged under three months.
MS Prasad says that by identifying what causes pneumonia in children, physicians can better target treatment, and reduce unnecessary antibiotic use.
While there are currently no vaccines for RSV, she says internationally there are several candidates in clinical development.
“An RSV vaccine will be valuable in preventing illness and deaths in young children both in New Zealand and around the world.”
The study also found children of Māori or Pacific ethnicity or those living in low socioeconomic status areas were at increased risk of hospitalisation because of respiratory disease.
Ms Prasad says although a vaccine would be an important tool in preventing respiratory infection, there are other risk factors that also need to be addressed to help lower the rates.
“Poverty, poor housing, overcrowding, exposure to smoking and poor nutrition are all well known risk factors for respiratory infections.”
“Lowering these exposures would help address the high RSV rates observed in New Zealand.”