Severity of respiratory syncytial virus bronchiolitis is affected by cigarette smoke exposure and atopy

Joseph P. Bradley, Leonard B. Bacharier, Jo Ann Bonfiglio, Kenneth B. Schechtman, Robert Strunk, Gregory Storch, Mario Castro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

154 Scopus citations


Objective. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) bronchiolitis is a common cause of hospitalizations in children and has been increasingly identified as a risk factor in the development of asthma. Little is known about what determines the severity of RSV bronchiolitis, which may be helpful in the initial assessment of these children. Design. We evaluated a variety of environmental and host factors that may contribute to the severity of RSV bronchiolitis in the RSV Bronchiolitis in Early Life prospective cohort study. Severity of bronchiolitis was based on the quantization of lowest O2 saturation and the length of stay. These factors included the child's and family's demographics, presence of household allergens (dust mite, cat, dog, and cockroach), peripheral blood eosinophil count, immunoglobulin E level, infant feeding, prior illnesses, exposure to intrauterine and postnatal cigarette smoke, and family history of atopy. Patients. We prospectively enrolled 206 hospitalized infants, all under 12 months old (4.0 ± 3.3 months old), with their first episode of severe RSV bronchiolitis (mean O2 saturation: 91.6 ± 7.3%; length of stay: 2.5 ± 2.5 days; presence of radiographic opacities: 75%). Patients were excluded for a variety of reasons including previous wheezing, regular use of bronchodilator or antiinflammatory medications, any preexisting lung disease including asthma, chronic lung disease of prematurity/bronchopulmonary dysplasia, or cystic fibrosis; gastroesophageal reflux disease on medical therapy; or congenital anomalies of the chest or lung. Results. Age was found to be a significant factor in the severity of infection. The younger an infant was, the more severe the infection tended to be as measured by the lowest oxygen (O2) saturation. We also found that infants exposed to postnatal cigarette smoke from the mother had a lower O 2 saturation than those not exposed. However, there was no significant difference in RSV bronchiolitis severity between infants exposed only to intrauterine smoke and those infants never exposed to cigarette smoke. Infants with a family history of atopy, especially a maternal history of asthma or hay fever, had a higher O2 saturation. Although a history of maternal atopy seemed to be protective, there was no association between allergens and bronchiolitis severity, although 25% of households had elevated allergen levels. Black infants demonstrated less severe RSV bronchiolitis than their white counterparts. Multivariate analysis revealed age, race, maternal atopy, and smoking to be associated with severity of RSV bronchiolitis. Conclusion. The severity of RSV bronchiolitis early in life seems modified by postnatal maternal cigarette smoke exposure and atopy and age of the infant, not by levels of allergens in the home environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e7-e14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005


  • Asthma
  • Bronchiolitis
  • RSV


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