Disease severity and viral load are correlated in infants with primary respiratory syncytial virus infection in the community

M L Houben, F E J Coenjaerts, J W A Rossen, M E Belderbos, R W Hofland, J L L Kimpen, L Bont
Journal of Medical Virology 2010, 82 (7): 1266-71
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a major cause of respiratory tract infections in infants, with remarkable variability in disease severity. Factors determining severity of disease in previously healthy infants are still unclear. It was hypothesized that disease severity is correlated with viral load in primary RSV infection. Infants of a healthy birth cohort were included at signs of their first respiratory tract infection. Nasopharyngeal aspirate was obtained within 48-96 hr and disease severity was assessed with a previously published severity scoring model. PCR was applied to test the aspirates in a semi-quantitative way for the presence of 10 respiratory pathogens. In case of multiple infection, the pathogen with the highest load was defined as the primary pathogen. The correlation between disease severity and viral load was analyzed. A total of 82 infants were included over a period of 2 years. Median age at first respiratory tract infection was 3 months. Pathogens were detected in 77 (94%) infants; more than one pathogen was detected in 35 (43%) infants. RSV was present in aspirates of 30 infants; in 16 aspirates RSV was the primary pathogen. A negative correlation between RSV CT-value and disease severity was found in all RSV cases (rho = -0.52, P = 0.003) and in cases with RSV as the primary pathogen (rho = -0.54, P = 0.03). In conclusion, this is the first report on viral loads in previously healthy infants with RSV infection in the community. Disease severity correlated positively with viral load during primary RSV infection.

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