Every winter, Canadian pediatric hospitals experience a wave of admissions linked to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which causes respiratory tract infections such as bronchiolitis and pneumonia.
A study carried out by researchers at BC Children's Hospital and the Montreal Children's Hospital, published today in JAMA Network Open, identifies RSV-related hospitalizations between 2017 and 2022 in 13 Canadian pediatric tertiary care hospitals participating in the Canadian Immunization Monitoring Program ACTive (IMPACT) of the Canadian Paediatric Society. These represent over 90 per cent of pediatric tertiary care beds in the country. The study also shows the epidemic curve followed by the virus each year, including changes induced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nearly half (49.8 per cent) of the 11,014 RSV-related hospitalizations recorded during this period were in patients under six months of age.
“Our results suggest that preventative strategies for infants under six months of age have the potential to substantially decrease the RSV burden in Canadian children,"
says Dr. Nirma Vadlamudi, first co-author of the study and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Vaccine Evaluation Center at BC Children's Hospital Research Institute and the University of British Columbia (UBC).
These measures include the potential administration of a long-acting monoclonal antibody to infants (approved by Health Canada in April 2023), protecting them during their first RSV season.
Vaccination of pregnant women against RSV (currently under review by Health Canada) may also be considered. This would enable expectant mothers to develop antibodies they could pass on to their babies, who would be protected in the first months of life.
The study also found that after a near absence during the 2020-2021 season, RSV-related hospitalizations increased in 2021-2022 (3,170 admissions) compared with the pre-pandemic period (average of 2,522 admissions per year).
"This research describes RSV hospitalizations in Canadian pediatric hospitals with data from before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Monitoring RSV seasonal variations is essential for pediatric health-care capacity planning," says Dr. Julie Bettinger, senior co-author of the study, investigator at BC Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatric infectious diseases at UBC.
Dr. Jesse Papenburg, pediatric infectious diseases specialist at the Montreal Children's Hospital and scientist in the Infectious Diseases and Immunity in Global Health Program at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, is the other co-senior co-author of the study. Dr. Malou Bordeau, a pediatric infectious disease resident at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, is the other first co-author of the study.
Case severity and percentage of cases by age remained similar over the five years studied.
Credit: Montreal Children's Hospital