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Pediatric respiratory syncytial virus hospitalizations, 2017-2023


Importance Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) transmission was disrupted worldwide following the COVID-19 pandemic, and further study is required to better understand these changes.

Objective To compare observed and expected RSV hospital and intensive care unit (ICU) admission rates and characteristics of admitted children during the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 seasons. 

Design, Setting, and Participants — A population-based cohort study of all children aged younger than 5 years in Ontario, Canada, July 1, 2017, through March 31, 2023, was conducted. 

Exposures — Individual and neighborhood-level sociodemographic and clinical characteristics were identified from administrative data, including age, palivizumab eligibility, complex medical conditions, rurality, and living in a marginalized neighborhood.

Main Outcomes and Measures — The main outcome was RSV-associated hospitalization. Secondary outcomes included ICU admissions, mechanical ventilation, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, and in-hospital death. Poisson generalized estimating equations were used to model weekly age- and sex-specific hospitalization rates and estimate expected rates in the postpandemic era; adjusted rate ratios (RRs) and 95% CIs are reported.

Results — This cohort study included approximately 700 000 children per study year. Compared with prepandemic years (2017-2018, 2018-2019, and 2019-2020), the 2021-2022 RSV season peaked slightly earlier, but overall admission rates were comparable (289.1 vs 281.4-334.6 per 100 000, or approximately 2000 admissions). The 2022-2023 season peaked a month earlier and resulted in more than twice as many hospitalizations (770.0 per 100 000; n = 4977 admissions). The proportion of children admitted to an ICU in 2022-2023 (13.9%) was slightly higher than prepandemic (9.6%-11.4%); however, the population-based rate was triple the prepandemic levels (106.9 vs 27.6-36.6 per 100 000 children in Ontario). With the exception of palivizumab-eligible children, all sociodemographic and health status characteristics were associated with lower-than-expected RSV hospitalization rates in 2021-2022. In contrast, older age of patients was associated with higher-than-expected rates in 2022-2023 (ie, 24-59 months: RR, 1.90; 95% CI, 1.35-2.66).

Conclusions and Relevance — There were notable differences in RSV epidemiologic characteristics in Ontario following the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not yet clear whether and how long atypical RSV epidemics may persist. Clinicians and program planners should consider the potential for ongoing impacts to health care capacity and RSV immunization programs.



Fitzpatrick T, Buchan SA, Mahant S, Fu L, Kwong JC, Stukel TA, Guttmann A. JAMA Netw Open. 2024; 7(6):e2416077. Epub 2024 Jun 11.

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