Frequent Asymptomatic Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections During an Epidemic in a Rural Kenyan Household Cohort

Munywoki PK, Koech DC, Agoti CN, Bett A, Cane PA, Medley GF, Nokes DJ
J Infect Dis. 2015;212

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BACKGROUND: The characteristics, determinants, and potential contribution to transmission of asymptomatic cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection have not been well described. METHODS: A cohort of 47 households (493 individuals) in coastal Kenya was recruited and followed for a 26-week period spanning a complete RSV season. Nasopharyngeal swab specimens were requested weekly, during the first 4 weeks, and twice weekly thereafter from all household members, regardless of illness status. The samples were screened for a range of respiratory viruses by multiplex real-time polymerase chain reaction. RESULTS: Tests on 16,928 samples yielded 205 RSV infection episodes in 179 individuals (37.1%) from 40 different households. Eighty-six episodes (42.0%) were asymptomatic. Factors independently associated with an increased risk of asymptomatic RSV infection episodes were higher age, shorter duration of infection, bigger household size, lower peak viral load, absence of concurrent RSV infections within the household, infection by RSV group B, and no prior human rhinovirus infections. The propensity of RSV spread in households was dependent on symptom status and amount (duration and load) of virus shed. CONCLUSIONS: While asymptomatic RSV was less likely to spread, the high frequency of symptomless RSV infection episodes highlights a potentially important role of asymptomatic infections in the community transmission of RSV.