Background: There have been few population-based studies from Central America on respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections in young children. We report population-based incidence rates and describe epidemiological and clinical characteristics of children <5 years old hospitalized with RSV infections in Guatemala.
Methods: Prospective, active hospital-based surveillance for acute respiratory infections in children <5 years old was conducted at 3 hospitals in Guatemala from November 2007 through July 2010. RSV hospitalization rates were calculated for areas where the catchment population could be defined. Comparisons were made between children who were RSV-positive and RSV-negative.
Results: RSV was detected in 549 (25%) of enrolled children. Overall, annual rates of RSV hospitalizations ranged from 5.9 to 45.9 and 2.0 to 13.7 per 1000 children <1 year old and <5 years old, respectively, but varied by location and calendar year. Rates generally decreased with age—children <6 months had rates up to 30 times higher than older children, but children >12 months old still had rates up to 5.5 per 1000 per year and accounted for 42% of deaths. Children with RSV infections were more likely to have signs of respiratory distress (85% versus 63%, P < 0.001) compared with those without RSV infections, but case fatality ratios were similar (3–4%).
Conclusions: The large burden and severity of RSV infections in young Guatemalan children is similar in magnitude and age distribution to RSV disease burdens found in other developing countries and suggests that this population would benefit from prevention strategies, including vaccines against RSV that are currently under development.