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Respiratory syncytial virus poses a significant threat to elderly

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), primarily seen as a cause of illness in infants and children, often affects the elderly and high-risk adults as much as influenza, a study by University of Rochester Medical Center researchers demonstrates.

Although pediatricians are well aware of RSV, most internists rarely consider RSV in adult patients. However, an estimated 14,000 elderly and high-risk adults die annually from an RSV infection, according to research by Ann R. Falsey, M.D., and Edward E. Walsh, M.D.

RSV infections account for more than 177,500 hospitalizations of adults each year at a cost that exceeds $1 billion.

The study, published in the April 28 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, confirms the need for the development of an RSV vaccine for elderly and high-risk adults, says Falsey, an associate professor of medicine and the study's principal investigator.

"This in no way diminishes the impact of RSV in children," Falsey says. "For the elderly, RSV can be serious, similar to the flu. Overall, RSV causes a substantial burden of disease in adults. Development of a vaccine would be worthwhile."

While RSV has been recognized as a potentially serious problem for adults for 30 years, there has been limited documentation of the extent of RSV infections. The four-year study by researchers is the first large investigation over a substantial period of time that used state-of-the-art diagnostic techniques.

The study has important repercussions for public health strategy and for the prioritization of the development of vaccines and antiviral agents, according to an editorial accompanying the research article in The New England Journal of Medicine.

RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia among infants and children under 1 year of age. But RSV causes repeated infections throughout life. In adults, the symptoms are similar to the common cold, but they are more severe and last longer. Th
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Contact: Michael Wentzel
michael_wentzel@urmc.rochester.edu
585-275-1309
University of Rochester Medical Center
27-Apr-2005


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