Background: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the major cause of lower respiratory tract infection in infants. The rate of decay of RSV-specific maternal antibodies (RSV-matAb), the factors affecting cord blood levels, and the relationship between these levels and protection from infection are poorly defined.
Methods: A birth cohort (n = 635) in rural Kenya, was studied intensively to monitor infections and describe age-related serological characteristics. RSV specific IgG antibody (Ab) in serum was measured by the enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) in cord blood, consecutive samples taken 3 monthly, and in paired acute and convalescent samples. A linear regression model was used to calculate the rate of RSV-matAb decline. The effect of risk factors on cord blood titres was investigated.
Results: The half-life of matAb in the Kenyan cohort was calculated to be 79 days (95% confidence limits (CL): 76-81 days). Ninety seven percent of infants were born with RSV-matAb. Infants who subsequently experienced an infection in early life had significantly lower cord titres of anti-RSV Ab in comparison to infants who did not have any incident infection in the first 6 months (P = 0.011). RSV infections were shown to have no effect on the rate of decay of RSV-matAb.
Conclusion: Maternal-specific RSV Ab decline rapidly following birth. However, we provide evidence of protection against severe disease by RSV-matAb during the first 6-7 months. This suggests that boosting maternal-specific Ab by RSV vaccination may be a useful strategy to consider.