This particular virus will have infected nearly all children by the time they reach the age of two
About 60 per cent of all babies will become infected with RSV before their first birthday. Up to a third of these children will go on to develop bronchiolitis, with the initial snuffles and coughs accompanied by a fever; breathing becoming faster and shallow, and feeding proving difficult.
Most babies recover quickly, but up to three per cent will develop severe bronchiolitis. In these cases a child may not be able to feed at all and will have a bluish tinge to the lips or complexion. This is caused by oxygen shortage and is a sign that urgent medical treatment is required.
Sometimes life-threatening chest complications can develop. A high proportion of these babies will need oxygen and/or tube feeding or intravenous fluids. A small percentage will need to be put on a ventilator to help them with their breathing.
Professor Rosalind Smyth and her team at the Institute of Child Health at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, are working with the Department of Medical Microbiology at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital on a two year, £90,600 study of bronchiolitis in babies, funded by a grant from Action Research.
Professor Smyth comments: "This particular virus will have infected nearly all children by the time they reach the age of two, but it can cause life threatening complications in some infants and less severe symptoms in others. The reasons for this diversity are not well understood. We want to try to understand why some babies just get mild cold symptoms with this infection and others go onto develop serious illnesses like bronchiolitis."
The research team studies babies who are critically ill with RSV and bronchiolitis and compares them with babies who do not have this infection.
Professor Smyth says: "We know babies with underlying heart and lung disease are at a higher risk of developing RSV and bronchiolitis, but we also have healthy babies who are born at full-term who develop the disease. There is a huge range of cases and the precise reasons why some babies develop serious illness and some do not, are still not understood."
Professor Smyth admits parents often find the disease very frightening because of the speed at which their baby’s condition can deteriorate. "It can start off with the symptoms of a cold and within a day or two the baby’s breathing becomes very noisy and laboured and the baby can turn blue and have difficulties with feeding" says Professor Smyth. She continues: "The team will also be studying the possible long term effects of bronchiolitis, in particular whether these babies are at higher risk of developing asthma and wheeze later on in childhood."
Professor Smyth concludes: "The suspicion is that babies who suffer bronchiolitis are at higher risk of developing asthma and wheeze at a later stage. We will be following up a number of children who suffered bronchiolitis to see if that is the case."
Over the last three years Action Research has funded four projects specifically related to bronchiolitis.
“We want to try to understand why some babies just get mild cold symptoms with this infection and others go onto develop serious illnesses like bronchiolitis”