BACKGROUND - Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection is a leading cause of hospitalization among infants. However, estimates of the RSV hospitalization burden have varied, and precision has been limited by the use of age strata grouped in blocks of 6 to ≥ 12 months.
METHODS - We analyzed data from a 5-year, prospective, population-based surveillance for young children who were hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed (reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction) RSV acute respiratory illness (ARI) during October through March 2000-2005. The total population at risk was stratified by month of age by birth certificate information to yield hospitalization rates.
RESULTS - There were 559 (26%) RSV-infected children among the 2149 enrolled children hospitalized with ARI (85% of all eligible children with ARI). The average RSV hospitalization rate was 5.2 per 1000 children <24 months old. The highest age-specific rate was in infants 1 month old (25.9 per 1000 children). Infants ≤ 2 months of age, who comprised 44% of RSV-hospitalized children, had a hospitalization rate of 17.9 per 1000 children. Most children (79%) were previously healthy. Very preterm infants (<30 weeks' gestation) accounted for only 3% of RSV cases but had RSV hospitalization rates 3 times that of term infants.
CONCLUSIONS - Young infants, especially those who were 1 month old, were at greatest risk of RSV hospitalization. Four-fifths of RSV-hospitalized infants were previously healthy. To substantially reduce the burden of RSV hospitalizations, effective general preventive strategies will be required for all young infants, not just those with risk factors.