Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is an important pathogen that can cause severe illness in infants and young children. In this study, we assessed whether data on RSV collected by the European Influenza Surveillance Scheme (EISS) could be used to build an RSV surveillance system in Europe.
Influenza and RSV data for the 2002–2003 winter season were analysed for England, France, the Netherlands and Scotland. Data from sentinel physician networks and other sources, mainly hospitals, were collected. Respiratory specimens were tested for influenza and RSV mainly by virus culture and polymerase chain reaction amplification.
Data on RSV were entered timely into the EISS database. RSV contributed noticeably to influenza-like illness: in England sentinel RSV detections were common in all age groups, but particularly in young children with 20 (40.8%) of the total number of sentinel swabs testing positive for RSV. Scotland and France also reported the highest percentages of RSV detections in the 0–4 year age group, respectively 10.3% (N = 29) and 12.2% (N = 426). In the Netherlands, RSV was detected in one person aged over 65 years.
We recommend that respiratory specimens collected in influenza surveillance are also tested systematically for RSV and emphasize the use of both community derived data and data from hospitals for RSV surveillance. RSV data from the EISS have been entered in a timely manner and we consider that the EISS model can be used to develop an RSV surveillance system equivalent to the influenza surveillance in Europe.