This study was designed to collect data on the prevalence of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection in Italy in infants hospitalized for lower respiratory tract infections, and to evaluate which of the recognized risk factors might be associated with disease severity. Thirty-two centers throughout Italy participated in the study. Over a 6-month period (November 1,1999 to April 30, 2000), we evaluated all children < 2 years of age hospitalized for lower respiratory tract infections. All subjects were tested for RSV within 24 hr of hospitalization by using an immuno-enzymatic diagnostic test (Abbott Testpack, RSV). Logistic regression was used to identify the factors that might be associated with more severe disease or could increase the likelihood of RSV positivity in hospitalized infants. Out of a total of 1,232 children enrolled, 40.6% were found to be RSV-positive (RSV+). The peak of the RSV epidemic occurred in February, while the lowest prevalence of RSV positivity was seen in November (P < 0.05). A high proportion of study subjects had low birth weight and low gestational age. The clinical diagnosis at hospitalization was bronchiolitis in 66.7%, pneumonia in 15.3%, and wheezy bronchitis in 18.1%. In the bronchiolitis group, a higher prevalence of RSV+ was found in patients with gestational age <or= 33 weeks or 34-35 weeks, as compared to those with a gestational age >or= 36 weeks (P < 0.04). No differences were found in the proportion of RSV+ patients in the three gestational age subgroups with pneumonia and wheezy bronchitis (P > 0.05, each comparison). Independent of the clinical diagnosis at admission, RSV infection was associated with more severe respiratory impairment. Environmental smoke exposure was higher in subjects with bronchiolitis than in those with wheezy bronchitis (P < 0.04), and RSV+ was positively related with the birth order (P < 0.05). The presence of older siblings and birth order plays an important role in RSV infection. The collected data show that, in Italy, RSV is an important cause of lower respiratory tract infection in infants. Gestational age, birth order, birth weight, and exposure to tobacco smoke affected the prevalence and severity of RSV-related lower respiratory tract disease.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.