Study: Common childhood infection poses dangers to elderly

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A dangerous respiratory virus that is commonly found in children appears to be an increasing problem among adults and the elderly, according to results of a recent study. Results are published in the April 28 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is considered a "bad problem" by researchers at Rochester (NY) General Hospital studying the prevalence of RSV in adults. It runs a close second to influenza in contributing to serious respiratory infections, researchers said. It contributes to about 177,525 hospital admissions each year and 10,000 deaths annually among people 65 and older.

Researchers assessed the respiratory illnesses found in 608 healthy elderly people, 540 high-risk adults and 1,388 people who had been hospitalized four winters straight.  RSV infection was found in 3% to 7% of the healthy elderly people and 4% to 10% of the high-risk individuals.

In the hospitalized group, RSV and complications from the flu had similar rates for intensive care -- 15% and 12%, respectively, and mortality rates -- 8% for RSV versus 7% for the flu.

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