Epidemiologic associations between viral lower respiratory infections (LRIs) and asthma in later childhood are well known. However, the question of whether such infections cause asthma or unmask asthma in a susceptible host has still not been settled. Most early evidence centered on the role of the respiratory syncytial virus; however, recent studies highlight a potential role for human rhinovirus as a risk factor for asthma. The links between early-life viral LRI and subsequent asthma are generally via wheeze; however, the presence of wheeze does not give any information about why the child is wheezing. Wheeze in early life is, at best, a fuzzy phenotype and not specific for subsequent asthma. The risk of asthma after viral LRI is increased in the presence of allergic sensitization in early life and if the infection is more severe. Atopy-associated mechanisms also appear to be involved in viral-induced acute exacerbations of asthma, especially in prolonging symptomatology after the virus has been cleared from the lungs. Breaking the nexus between viral respiratory infections and asthma may be possible with interventions designed to inhibit atopy-related effectors mechanisms from participating in the host response to respiratory viral infections.
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