Background: While circulation of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) results in high rates of hospitalization, particularly among young children and elderly individuals, little is known about the role of different age groups in propagating annual RSV epidemics.
Methods: We evaluate the roles played by individuals in different age groups during RSV epidemics in the United States between 2001 and 2012, using the previously defined relative risk (RR) statistic estimated from the hospitalization data from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project. Transmission modeling was used to examine the robustness of our inference method.
Results: Children aged 3-4 years and 5-6 years each had the highest RR estimate for 5 of 11 seasons included in this study, with RSV hospitalization rates in infants being generally higher during seasons when children aged 5-6 years had the highest RR estimate. Children aged 2 years had the highest RR estimate during one season. RR estimates in infants and individuals aged ≥11 years were mostly lower than in children aged 1-10 years. Highest RR values aligned with groups for which vaccination had the largest impact on epidemic dynamics in most model simulations.
Conclusions: Our estimates suggest the prominent relative roles of children aged ≤10 years (particularly among those aged 3-6 years) in propagating RSV epidemics. These results, combined with further modeling work, should help inform RSV vaccination policies.
Keywords: RSV; age groups; epidemic drivers; relative risk; transmission modeling.
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