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Examining the interseasonal resurgence of respiratory syncytial virus in Western Australia


Background Following a relative absence in winter 2020, a large resurgence of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) detections occurred during the 2020/2021 summer in Western Australia. This seasonal shift was linked to SARS-CoV-2 public health measures. We examine the epidemiology and RSV testing of respiratory-coded admissions, and compare clinical phenotype of RSV-positive admissions between 2019 and 2020.

Method At a single tertiary paediatric centre, International Classification of Diseases, 10th edition Australian Modification-coded respiratory admissions longer than 12 hours were combined with laboratory data from 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2020. Data were grouped into bronchiolitis, other acute lower respiratory infection (OALRI) and wheeze, to assess RSV testing practices. For RSV-positive admissions, demographics and clinical features were compared between 2019 and 2020.

Results RSV-positive admissions peaked in early summer 2020, following an absent winter season. Testing was higher in 2020: bronchiolitis, 94.8% vs 89.2% (p=0.01); OALRI, 88.6% vs 82.6% (p=0.02); and wheeze, 62.8% vs 25.5% (p<0.001). The 2020 peak month, December, contributed almost 75% of RSV-positive admissions, 2.5 times the 2019 peak. The median age in 2020 was twice that observed in 2019 (16.4 vs 8.1 months, p<0.001). The proportion of RSV-positive OALRI admissions was greater in 2020 (32.6% vs 24.9%, p=0.01). There were no clinically meaningful differences in length of stay or disease severity.

Interpretation The 2020 RSV season was in summer, with a larger than expected peak. There was an increase in RSV-positive non-bronchiolitis admissions, consistent with infection in older RSV-naïve children. This resurgence raises concern for regions experiencing longer and more stringent SARS-CoV-2 public health measures.

  • virology
  • respiratory medicine
  • child health

Data availability statement

Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available. De-identified data may be obtained upon request through the Perth Children's Hospital ethic and governance system.

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