If you and your family live at an altitude above 8,202 feet (2,500 meters), such as in Colorado, your child may be at greater risk for being hospitalized for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a type of respiratory infection that causes bronchiolitis and pneumonia.
Using hospital records, researchers from the University of Colorado and Health Sciences Center and Children's Hospital, both in Denver, examined the rates of RSV infection in infants living in different zip codes/altitudes across the United States.
Overall, 16 out of 1,000 children under 1 year old were hospitalized for RSV infection. In addition, about 2 out of 1,000 children between 1 and 4 years of age required hospitalization for RSV. When the researchers took the children's geographic altitude into account, they found that for every 3,280-foot (1,000-meter) increase in altitude, hospitalizations for RSV increased 25% in children under 1 and 53% in children between 1 and 4 years of age. Children with the highest risk for hospitalization for RSV lived at altitudes of 8,202 feet (2,500 meters) or more.
The study authors suggest that because there's less humidity in the air at higher altitudes, it may make it harder for infants and young children to clear mucus and respiratory secretions from the lungs, which may lead to congestion and increased rates of infection. The lower oxygen levels in the air at high altitudes may also contribute to breathing difficulties in children with lung infections.
What This Means to You
According to the results of this study, children living at high altitudes may have an increased risk of developing severe RSV. RSV season is typically from late fall through early spring. If your infant or young child develops breathing difficulties, call your child's doctor.
To help prevent RSV infection, make sure all family members wash their hands often with soap and warm water, especially if they've come in contact with someone with symptoms of a cold or other respiratory infection.
Source: Julie A. Choudhuri, RN, MSPH; Lorraine G. Ogden, PhD; A. James Ruttenber, MD, PhD; Deborah S. K. Thomas, PhD; James K. Todd, MD; Eric A. F. Simoes, MB, BS, DCH MD; Pediatrics, February 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: March 2006