Increased Pediatric Respiratory Syncytial Virus Case Counts Following the Emergence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Can Be Attributed to Changes in Testing.

Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America

BACKGROUND: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) circulation dropped markedly early in the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by a resurgence with heightened case counts. The "immunity debt" hypothesis proposes that the RSV-naїve pediatric population increased during the period of low transmission. However, the evidence supporting this hypothesis is limited, and the role of changing testing practices in the perceived surge has not been comprehensively evaluated.METHODS: We conducted a multicenter, retrospective analysis of 342 530 RSV encounters and 980 546 RSV diagnostic tests occurring at 32 US pediatric hospitals in 2013-2023. We used interrupted time series analysis to estimate pandemic-associated changes in RSV patient and test volume and to quantify changes in the proportions of patients requiring hospitalization, intensive care, or mechanical ventilation. We quantified the fraction of the shifts in case counts and in the age of diagnosed patients attributable to changes in testing.RESULTS: RSV patient volume increased 2.4-fold (95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.7, 3.5) in 2021-2023 relative to the pre-pandemic phase and was accompanied by an 18.9-fold increase (95% CI: 15.0, 23.9) in RSV test volume. Shifts in patient volume and in patient age were largely attributable to increased testing. The proportions of patients with RSV that required hospitalization, intensive care, or mechanical ventilation declined significantly across all patient age groups.CONCLUSIONS: A surge in RSV testing, rather than in viral circulation, likely underlies the increased case counts observed in 2021-2023. These findings warrant a critical assessment of the immunity debt hypothesis and highlight the importance of considering the testing denominator when surveillance strategies are dynamic.

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Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America
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