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Sequence analysis of respiratory syncytial virus cases reveals a novel subgroup -B strain circulating in north-central Italy after pandemic restrictions.

BACKGROUND: Following the pandemic restrictions, the epidemiology of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has changed, leading to intense hospitalization peaks.

OBJECTIVES: This study, conducted at multiple sites in Italy, aimed to describe the temporal dynamics of two post-COVID-19 RSV epidemics. Additionally, the circulating RSV-A and -B lineages were characterized and compared to those found in 2018 and 2019.

STUDY DESIGN: Respiratory specimens and data were collected from RSV-positive patients, both inpatients, and outpatients, of all ages at three sites in north-central Italy. To analyze these samples, roughly one-sixth were sequenced in the attachment glycoprotein G gene and subjected to phylogenetic and mutational analyses, including pre-pandemic sequences from north-central Italy.

RESULTS: The first post-pandemic surge of RSV cases was quite intense, occurring from October 2021 to early January 2022. The subsequent RSV epidemic (from November 2022 to early March 2023) also had a high impact, characterized by a rise in elderly patient cases. Post-pandemic cases of RSV-A were caused by various strains present in Italy prior to COVID-19. In contrast, a distinct RSV-B lineage, which was concurrently spreading in other countries, was identified as the main cause of the surge in 2022-2023 but remained undetected in Italy before the pandemic.

CONCLUSIONS: This study describes the temporal dynamics of post-pandemic RSV subgroups and uncovers a lineage of RSV-B with high genetic divergence that may have increased the impact of decreased population immunity.

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