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From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
January 28, 1998

Update: Respiratory Syncytial Virus Activity—United States, 1997-98 Season

JAMA. 1998;279(4):264-265. doi:10.1001/jama.279.4.264-JWR0128-2-1

MMWR. 1997;46:1163-1165

1 figure omitted

RESPIRATORY SYNCYTIAL virus (RSV), a common cause of winter outbreaks of acute respiratory disease, results in an estimated 90,000 hospitalizations and 4500 deaths each year from lower respiratory tract disease among infants and young children in the United States.1 Outbreaks occur annually throughout the country.2,3 RSV activity in the United States is monitored by the National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System (NREVSS), a voluntary, laboratory-based system. This report summarizes trends in RSV reported by NREVSS for July 1992-June 1997 and presents provisional surveillance results for July-November 1997. These data indicate onset of widespread RSV activity for the 1997-98 season.

Since July 1992, a total of 100 clinical and public health laboratories in 47 states have participated in NREVSS and have reported weekly to CDC the number of specimens tested for RSV by the antigen-detection and virus-isolation methods and the number of positive results. RSV activity is considered by NREVSS to have become widespread during the first of 2 consecutive weeks during which at least half of participating laboratories report any RSV detections. This definition generally indicates a mean percentage of specimens positive by antigen detection in excess of 10%.

From July 1992 through June 1997, onset of widespread RSV activity began each November and continued for a mean of 22 weeks, until April or mid-May. In most parts of the 48 contiguous states, the peak in activity occurred each year in January or February; however, in the Southeast, activity peaked as early as November or December.3 For the reporting period beginning July 1997, a total of 71 laboratories in 41 states reported results of testing for RSV. Since the week ending November 7, more than half of the participating laboratories reported detections of RSV each week, indicating onset of widespread RSV activity for the 1997-98 season.

Reported by:

National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System collaborating laboratories. Respiratory and Enteric Viruses Br, Div of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, CDC.

CDC Editorial Note:

During the RSV season, health-care providers should consider RSV as a cause of acute respiratory disease in both children and adults. Most severe manifestations of infection with RSV (e.g., pneumonia and bronchiolitis) occur in infants aged 2-6 months; however, children of any age who have underlying cardiac or pulmonary disease or are immunocompromised are at risk for serious complications from this infection. Because natural infection with RSV provides limited protective immunity, RSV can cause repeated symptomatic infections throughout life. In adults, RSV usually causes upper respiratory tract symptoms but can cause lower respiratory tract disease, especially in elderly and in immunocompromised persons.4-6 Infection in immunocompromised persons can be associated with high death rates.6

RSV is a common but preventable cause of nosocomially acquired infection; the risk for nosocomial transmission increases during community outbreaks.7 Sources for nosocomially acquired infection include infected patients, staff, or visitors or contaminated fomites. Nosocomial outbreaks or transmission of RSV can be controlled with strict attention to contact-isolation procedures.7 In addition, chemotherapy with ribavirin may be considered for some patients (e.g., those at high risk for severe complications or who are seriously ill with this infection)8; RSV immune globulin intravenous (human) is available for prevention of serious RSV infections in some high-risk infants and children.9 Vaccines for RSV are being developed, but none have been demonstrated to be safe and efficacious in infants.10

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