Is There a Link Between RSV Infection and Childhood Asthma?

RSV is a seasonal respiratory virus that affects almost all children by the age of 2 and repeatedly throughout life. It is the leading cause of

, a lower respiratory tract infection that presents as coughing and wheezing in infants and young children. The symptoms are mild in most children and usually resolve in about a week, but it can lead to serious illness and death especially in premature or very young infants and those with


It is the most common cause of hospitalizations worldwide due to respiratory issues in the first year of life, said Christian Rosas-Salazar, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Allergy, Immunology and Pulmonary Medicine, the first author of the study.

Could Early RSV Infection Lead to Significant Increased Asthma Risk?

“For 60 years investigators have repeatedly identified the link between severe RSV and asthma; however, we’ve shown that this link is explained in part by shared heredity to both severe RSV and asthma,” said the study’s principal investigator and senior author Tina Hartert, MD, MPH, professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, director of the Center for Asthma and Environmental Sciences Research, Vice President for Translational Research and the Lulu H. Owen Professor of Medicine. “The solution in our study was to understand the link between RSV and asthma by ensuring all RSV infections would be captured using molecular techniques and post-season serology,” she said.


“In our study, among healthy children born at term, not being infected with RSV in the first year of life was associated with a substantially reduced risk of developing childhood asthma, which affects about 8% of the children in the U.S.,” Rosas-Salazar said.

“We focused on the first year of life because we think the first year is a very important period of lung and immune development,” Rosas-Salazar said. “We believe that when a child is infected with RSV in the first year of life, when the lungs and immune system are still under development, that could lead to certain abnormalities that can later cause asthma,” he said.

The INSPIRE (Infant Susceptibility to Pulmonary Infections and Asthma Following RSV Exposure) study included 1,946 eligible healthy infants who were 6 months old or younger at the beginning of RSV season (November to March in Tennessee). The infants were recruited from 11 pediatric practices across Middle Tennessee. Biweekly surveillance and serology tests were used to classify infants as infected or not infected in the first year of life. Fifty-four percent of infants were infected with RSV in the first year of life; 46% were uninfected. v

The infants were followed annually and then evaluated for asthma at 5 years old. The study found infants who weren’t infected with RSV in the first year of life had a 26% lower risk of asthma at age 5.

“We hope the results of this study motivate long-term follow-up of common respiratory outcomes among children in ongoing clinical trials of RSV prevention products, including vaccines and monoclonal antibodies that can decrease the severity of the infection,” Rosas-Salazar said.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, with an Asthma and Allergic Diseases Clinical Research Center award to Hartert.

The Vanderbilt study team included Tebeb Gebretsadik, MPH, William Dupont, PhD, James Chappell, MD, and Stokes Peebles, MD. Emory University collaborated in the study, providing laboratory services.

Source: Eurekalert

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