The virus is transmitted through sneezing or coughing, though Hall said you'd have to be very close to someone to catch RSV directly. But, the virus can live on surfaces, like countertops, desks, phones, computer keyboards, and if you touch these items and then rub your eyes, or touch your nose or mouth, you may become infected.
The new study, published in the Feb. 5 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, included more than 5,000 children from three metropolitan areas who were hospitalized or seen as an outpatient in either an emergency department or pediatrician's office. At two sites -- Rochester, N.Y. and Nashville, Tenn. -- data was collected from 2000 through 2004. The other site -- Cincinnati -- provided data for the 2003-2004 RSV season.
From that large sample of children, 919 tested positive for RSV infections. RSV was responsible for 20 percent of hospitalizations, 18 percent of emergency department visits, and 15 percent of pediatric office visits for acute respiratory infections from November through April, according to the study.
Hospitalizations for RSV infection occurred more frequently than did those for influenza, Hall said.
"We tend to think of influenza as a very serious player, but when you compare this to influenza, RSV is much higher. This study suggests there should be a little more urgency for finding RSV vaccines," Nowalk said.
The researchers also tried to pinpoint risk factors for RSV, but only found that being born prematurely or a young age were independent risk factors. Being in day care, having other children at home, having been breast-fed and even living in a home with a smoker didn't seem to significantly raise the risk of RSV.
"We could not show other specific risk factors, probably because RSV is ubiquitous. And, it's just so highly contagious. Between 20 and 40 percent of parents will also get RSV if a child gets it," Hall said.
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