Research into respiratory infection among young children in New Zealand has highlighted one particular virus as a
leading cause of high rates of hospitalisation.
The study, which is being presented in a workshop at the annual New Zealand Immunisation Conference in Auckland, has
found that approximately 40% of hospitalisations among young children for acute respiratory infection can be attributed
to Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).
ESR epidemiologist and Auckland University doctoral student Namrata Prasad says the research, which used data from the
Shivers (Southern Hemisphere Influenza and Vaccine Effectiveness Research and Surveillance) study, confirms overseas
research that shows a large number of cases of respiratory infection are connected to RSV.
The virus is the leading cause of pneumonia and bronchiolitis, the two most frequent types of lower respiratory tract
infections affecting infants and young children.
Findings from the study, published recently in the UK journal Epidemiology & Infection, also show that RSV hospitalisation rates among New Zealand children under five years old are almost twice as
high as comparative rates from Australia and USA, with the highest rates among children aged under three months.
MS Prasad says that by identifying what causes pneumonia in children, physicians can better target treatment, and reduce
unnecessary antibiotic use.
While there are currently no vaccines for RSV, she says internationally there are several candidates in clinical
“An RSV vaccine will be valuable in preventing illness and deaths in young children both in New Zealand and around the
The study also found children of Māori or Pacific ethnicity or those living in low socioeconomic status areas were at
increased risk of hospitalisation because of respiratory disease.
Ms Prasad says although a vaccine would be an important tool in preventing respiratory infection, there are other risk
factors that also need to be addressed to help lower the rates.
“Poverty, poor housing, overcrowding, exposure to smoking and poor nutrition are all well known risk factors for
“Lowering these exposures would help address the high RSV rates observed in New Zealand.”