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Pre-existing disease is associated with a significantly higher risk of death in severe respiratory syncytial virus infection
  1. K Thorburn
  1. Kentigern Thorburn, Department of Paediatric Intensive Care, Royal Liverpool Children’s Hospital, Liverpool L12 2AP, UK; kent.thorburn{at}


Background: 600 000 deaths worldwide are estimated to be directly or indirectly attributable to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Objectives: To determine: (1) the mortality rate; and (2) risk factors for death in children with severe RSV infection.

Setting: 20-bed, regional, multidisciplinary, tertiary, paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) in a university-affiliated children’s hospital.

Methods: Cohort study of all children with severe RSV infection covering eight consecutive RSV seasons (1999–2007), using PICU admission as a marker of severity.

Results: Of the 406 RSV-positive patients that were admitted to PICU: 98.5% required mechanical ventilation; 35 children died—median age 5.1 months (interquartile range (IQR) 2.4–13.6), length of PICU stay 16 days (IQR 8–31) and 371 survived—median age 2.5 months (IQR 1.2–9), length of PICU stay 5 days (IQR 4–9). The overall PICU RSV mortality was 8.6% with a standardised mortality ratio of 0.76. During the study period 2009 RSV-positive patients were admitted to the children’s hospital, giving a hospital RSV mortality rate of 1.7%.

Of the deaths, 18 were directly RSV related (RSV bronchiolitis-related mortality PICU 4.4% and hospital 0.9%) as the patients were still RSV positive when they died and 17 children died from non-pneumonitis causes after becoming RSV negative.

All of the RSV deaths had pre-existing medical conditions — chromosomal abnormalities 29%, cardiac lesions 27%, neuromuscular 15%, chronic lung disease 12%, large airway abnormality 9%, and immunodeficiency 9%. Nineteen children (56%) had pre-existing disease in two or more organ systems (relative risk (RR) 4.38).

Predisposing risk factors for death were pre-existing disease (RR 2.36), cardiac anomaly (RR 2.98) and nosocomial/hospital-acquired RSV infection (RR 2.89). There is an interaction effect between pre-existing disease, nosocomial/hospital-acquired RSV infection and mortality (p<0.001).

Conclusions: Pre-existing disease/comorbidity, in particular multiple pre-existing diseases and cardiac anomaly, is associated with a significantly higher risk of death from severe RSV infection. Nosocomial/hospital-acquired RSV infection is an additional major risk factor for death in children with severe RSV infection.

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • Ethics approval: The study was approved by the hospital’s Clinical Audit Department—a subgroup of the Research and Clinical Development Directorate.