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Incidence of asthma, this chronic, inflammatory lung disease causing breathing problems, has dramatically increased in the latter part of the 20th century. Today, an estimated 20 million Americans have asthma, including nearly seven million children. It's triggers have been previously linked to genetics and environment but new studies indicate that a common infant virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), could be a possible cause too.

A research published in this week's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine shows that babies born in autumn, four months before RSV's peak season, may be 30% more likely to develop asthma by the time they're five than kids who are older and have stronger immune systems when RSV is in high circulation.

By the time they're two, almost every child has gotten this virus that causes everything from colds to croup.
Severe infections of the lower airways called bronchiolitis are more likely to occur if kids contract the virus in the period when they are losing most of their mothers' antibodies (at about three months) and developing their own (at about six months.

It's been previously shown that 30 - 40 % of infants hospitalized for bronchiolitis develop asthma but the new study wanted to find out whether catching RSV represented a genetic susceptibility to asthma, or if the virus itself caused the disease.

By showing that increased asthma risk is associated with a baby’s age at the time of RSV season peak, the study proves the link between the virus and the disease.

This is an important finding that helps realizing that the trigger could be avoided. It is not possible to change a child's genes, but it is possible to change things in the environment.

One of the options would be giving antiviral drugs to babies who are most at risk of asthma, based on how old they were when the RSV season was at its peak.

Unfortunately, the study didn’t focus on finding out if breastfed babies who continue to receive their moms’ antibodies are better protected against RSV – or asthma. Certain studies suggested that breastfeeding may reduce a child’s chances of developing the disease, while others indicated it may not, especially if their mother is asthmatic.

The next step should be to prove that preventing respiratory viral infections actually prevents asthma.


I am wondering if giving antiviral drugs to babies who are most at risk of asthma is such a good idea. All antiviral drugs have unpleasant side effects that range from mild to serious, and they potentially can cause serious harm to a developing baby. A vaccine might have been a better choice.