Despite unusually low number of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) hospitalizations in 2020, there was an unusual peak in the third quarter of 2021, when hospital admissions for RSV were approximately twice those in a typical year, according to research published in Frontiers.

The Texas A&M University School of Public Health study additionally found that the length of hospital stays in relation to RSV, which typically followed a seasonal trend prior to COVID-19, was longer during the pandemic despite the lower number of cases.

“We found some really interesting data,” said Itza Mendoza-Sanchez, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH) and one of the lead authors on the study. “We had very low numbers in 2020 because of COVID, but then we saw higher numbers in 2021.”

The seasons are usually a strong predictor of RSV infection, with activity typically occurring in late fall, winter and early spring, peaking from late December to mid-February. According to the researchers, however, the COVID-19 pandemic had an effect on RSV seasonality.

“Kids were not going into daycare and getting that exposure (to RSV), and that mirrored the dynamic,” added Natalie Johnson, PhD, associate professor in EOH, and one of the lead authors of the study.

As for the increase in RSV hospital length of stay, Mendoza-Sanchez said: “We can only hypothesize that during COVID they were only accepting the extreme cases, and on average the length of stay was longer. We learned that what has happened in the past is informing us that if something similar happens in the future we have to be ready for the peaks in cases.”

RSV hospitalizations