Background: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is an increasingly recognized cause of illness in adults. Data on the epidemiology and clinical effects in community-dwelling elderly persons and high-risk adults can help in assessing the need for vaccine development.
Methods: During four consecutive winters, we evaluated all respiratory illnesses in prospective cohorts of healthy elderly patients (> or =65 years of age) and high-risk adults (those with chronic heart or lung disease) and in patients hospitalized with acute cardiopulmonary conditions. RSV infection and influenza A were diagnosed on the basis of culture, reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction, and serologic studies.
Results: A total of 608 healthy elderly patients and 540 high-risk adults were enrolled in prospective surveillance, and 1388 hospitalized patients were enrolled. A total of 2514 illnesses were evaluated. RSV infection was identified in 102 patients in the prospective cohorts and 142 hospitalized patients, and influenza A was diagnosed in 44 patients in the prospective cohorts and 154 hospitalized patients. RSV infection developed annually in 3 to 7 percent of healthy elderly patients and in 4 to 10 percent of high-risk adults. Among healthy elderly patients, RSV infection generated fewer office visits than influenza; however, the use of health care services by high-risk adults was similar in the two groups. In the hospitalized cohort, RSV infection and influenza A resulted in similar lengths of stay, rates of use of intensive care (15 percent and 12 percent, respectively), and mortality (8 percent and 7 percent, respectively). On the basis of the diagnostic codes of the International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision, Clinical Modification at discharge, RSV infection accounted for 10.6 percent of hospitalizations for pneumonia, 11.4 percent for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 5.4 percent for congestive heart failure, and 7.2 percent for asthma.
Conclusions: RSV infection is an important illness in elderly and high-risk adults, with a disease burden similar to that of nonpandemic influenza A in a population in which the prevalence of vaccination for influenza is high. An effective RSV vaccine may offer benefits for these adults.
Copyright 2005 Massachusetts Medical Society.