Researchers Classify Children Most at Risk for Respiratory Syncytial Virus


Infants younger than 6 months old are the highest risk for severe RSV infection, so researchers aim to target this group for prevention methods

In a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Helsinki and Helsinki University Hospital, researchers generated a 16-variable clinical prediction model that could calculate the risk of hospitalization following the diagnosis of a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The model displayed positive performance and identified that the risk for severe RSV infection is highest among children less than 6 months old.1

Sick baby boy applying inhale medication by inhalation mask to cure Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) on patient bed at hospital - Image credit: Zilvergolf |

Image credit: Zilvergolf |

"It may not be possible to offer these new preventive measures to all children. Our research helps to identify the children who need them most, both at the individual level and in the population," said Pekka Vartiainen, MD specializing in pediatrics at HUS and lead author of the study, in a press release.

RSV is a common virus that could lead to respiratory infections. The virus is proven to be dangerous, particularly in infants. As the virus has become more widespread around the world, researchers reported that over 100,000 children have died each year due to RSV.1

The press release noted that many individuals that were infected accumulated the illness in the peak of the RSV epidemic, causing high demand on health care providers. This led to the cancellation of other patients' needs and treatments.1

The study included 1.25 million children born in Finland from 1997 to 2020 and 1.4 million children born in Sweden from 2006 to 2020, along with their parents and siblings. The infants underwent multiple follow up appointments until they turned 1 year old.2

The press release noted that 1 in 3 children under the age of 1 that resided in Finland were infected with RSV, with around 1000 in need of hospitalization due to infection.1

"RSV causes severe infections, especially in children under 1 year of age. In Finland, it is one of the most common causes of hospitalization of young children and a major cause of infant mortality worldwide," said Santtu Heinonen, MD, a specialist in pediatrics from the HUS New Children's Hospital, in a press release.

To create the prediction model, the researchers used health data and artificial intelligence, along with the Finnish FinRegistry study to examine the children included in the study with the population registry data from Sweden.2

The study authors noted that they adjusted the prediction for each candidate based on 15 known risk factors, combining them with the children’s data. The researchers then adjusted the predictors “based on expert judgment, making trade-offs between predictive performance, simplicity, ease of application in the clinical content, and expected generability.”

The results concluded that infants less than 6 months old were at high risk of RSV infection, along with infants born prematurely, those who have other congenital conditions, and younger siblings. The press release noted that the study could allow prevention measures for the children that are more at risk, compared to others.1

“This study is an example on how nationwide registry-based studies can help to target preventive efforts. The aim of the FinRegistry project is to produce scientific knowledge on risk factors and trajectories leading to various diseases, also those not observable with traditional methods,” said Markus Perola, Research Professor, from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), in a press release.


  1. More accurate identification of children at high risk for RSV disease. EurekAlert!. News release. October 26, 2023, Accessed November 6, 2023.
  2. Risk factors for severe respiratory syncytial virus infection during the first year of life: development and validation of a clinical prediction model. The Lancet Digital Health. News release. November 2023. Accessed November 6, 2023.
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