Daniel Weinberger and colleagues examine a possible interaction between two serious respiratory infections in children under 2 years of age.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
The importance of bacterial infections following respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) remains unclear. We evaluated whether variations in RSV epidemic timing and magnitude are associated with variations in pneumococcal disease epidemics and whether changes in pneumococcal disease following the introduction of seven-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7) were associated with changes in the rate of hospitalizations coded as RSV.
Methods and Findings
We used data from the State Inpatient Databases (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality), including >700,000 RSV hospitalizations and >16,000 pneumococcal pneumonia hospitalizations in 36 states (1992/1993–2008/2009). Harmonic regression was used to estimate the timing of the average seasonal peak of RSV, pneumococcal pneumonia, and pneumococcal septicemia. We then estimated the association between the incidence of pneumococcal disease in children and the activity of RSV and influenza (where there is a well-established association) using Poisson regression models that controlled for shared seasonal variations. Finally, we estimated changes in the rate of hospitalizations coded as RSV following the introduction of PCV7. RSV and pneumococcal pneumonia shared a distinctive spatiotemporal pattern (correlation of peak timing: ρ = 0.70, 95% CI: 0.45, 0.84). RSV was associated with a significant increase in the incidence of pneumococcal pneumonia in children aged <1 y (attributable percent [AP]: 20.3%, 95% CI: 17.4%, 25.1%) and among children aged 1–2 y (AP: 10.1%, 95% CI: 7.6%, 13.9%). Influenza was also associated with an increase in pneumococcal pneumonia among children aged 1–2 y (AP: 3.2%, 95% CI: 1.7%, 4.7%). Finally, we observed a significant decline in RSV-coded hospitalizations in children aged <1 y following PCV7 introduction (−18.0%, 95% CI: −22.6%, −13.1%, for 2004/2005–2008/2009 versus 1997/1998–1999/2000). This study used aggregated hospitalization data, and studies with individual-level, laboratory-confirmed data could help to confirm these findings.
These analyses provide evidence for an interaction between RSV and pneumococcal pneumonia. Future work should evaluate whether treatment for secondary bacterial infections could be considered for pneumonia cases even if a child tests positive for RSV.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Respiratory infections—bacterial and viral infections of the lungs and the airways (the tubes that take oxygen-rich air to the lungs)—are major causes of illness and death in children worldwide. Pneumonia (infection of the lungs) alone is responsible for about 15% of all child deaths. The leading cause of bacterial pneumonia in children is Streptococcus pneumoniae, which is transmitted through contact with infected respiratory secretions. S. pneumoniae usually causes noninvasive diseases such as bronchitis, but sometimes the bacteria invade the lungs, the bloodstream, or the covering of the brain, where they cause pneumonia, septicemia, or meningitis, respectively. These potentially fatal invasive pneumococcal diseases can be treated with antibiotics but can also be prevented by vaccination with pneumococcal conjugate vaccines such as PCV7. The leading cause of viral pneumonia is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is also readily transmitted through contact with infected respiratory secretions. Almost all children have an RSV infection before their second birthday—RSV usually causes a mild cold-like illness. However, some children infected with RSV develop pneumonia and have to be admitted to hospital for supportive care such as the provision of supplemental oxygen; there is no specific treatment for RSV infection.
Why Was This Study Done?
Co-infections with bacteria and viruses can sometimes have a synergistic effect and lead to more severe disease than an infection with either type of pathogen (disease-causing organism) alone. For example, influenza infections increase the risk of invasive pneumococcal disease. But does pneumococcal disease also interact with RSV infection? It is important to understand the interaction between pneumococcal disease and RSV to improve the treatment of respiratory infections in young children, but the importance of bacterial infections following RSV infection is currently unclear. Here, the researchers undertake a time series analysis of US hospitalization data to investigate the association between RSV activity and pneumococcal disease in infants. Time series analysis uses statistical methods to analyze data collected at successive, evenly spaced time points.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
For their analysis, the researchers used data collected between 1992/1993 and 2008/2009 by the State Inpatient Databases on more than 700,000 hospitalizations for RSV and more than 16,000 hospitalizations for pneumococcal pneumonia or septicemia among children under two years old in 36 US states. Using a statistical technique called harmonic regression to measure seasonal variations in disease incidence (the rate of occurrence of new cases of a disease), the researchers show that RSV and pneumococcal pneumonia shared a distinctive spatiotemporal pattern over the study period. Next, using Poisson regression models (another type of statistical analysis), they show that RSV was associated with significant increases (increases unlikely to have happened by chance) in the incidence of pneumococcal disease. Among children under one year old, 20.3% of pneumococcal pneumonia cases were associated with RSV activity; among children 1–2 years old, 10.1% of pneumococcal pneumonia cases were associated with RSV activity. Finally, the researchers report that following the introduction of routine vaccination in the US against S. pneumoniae with PCV7 in 2000, there was a significant decline in hospitalizations for RSV among children under one year old.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide evidence for an interaction between RSV and pneumococcal pneumonia and indicate that RSV is associated with increases in the incidence of pneumococcal pneumonia, particularly in young infants. Notably, the finding that RSV hospitalizations declined after the introduction of routine pneumococcal vaccination suggests that some RSV hospitalizations may have a joint viral–bacterial etiology (cause), although it is possible that PCV7 vaccination reduced the diagnosis of RSV because fewer children were hospitalized with pneumococcal disease and subsequently tested for RSV. Because this is an ecological study (an observational investigation that looks at risk factors and outcomes in temporally and geographically defined populations), these findings do not provide evidence for a causal link between hospitalizations for RSV and pneumococcal pneumonia. The similar spatiotemporal patterns for the two infections might reflect another unknown factor shared by the children who were hospitalized for RSV or pneumococcal pneumonia. Moreover, because pooled hospitalization discharge data were used in this study, these results need to be confirmed through analysis of individual-level, laboratory-confirmed data. Importantly, however, these findings support the initiation of studies to determine whether treatment for bacterial infections should be considered for children with pneumonia even if they have tested positive for RSV.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001776.
The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides information about the respiratory system and about pneumonia
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on all aspects of pneumococcal disease and pneumococcal vaccination, including personal stories and information about RSV infection
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about pneumonia (including a personal story) and about pneumococcal diseases
KidsHealth, a website provided by the US-based non-profit Nemours Foundation, includes information on pneumonia and on RSV (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides links to other resources about pneumonia, RSV infections, and pneumococcal infections (in English and Spanish)
HCUPnet provides aggregated hospitalization data from the State Inpatient Databases used in this study