Viral Respiratory Infections in Preterm Infants during and after Hospitalization

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To determine the burden of viral respiratory infections in preterm infants both during and subsequent to neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) hospitalization and to compare this with term infants living in the community.

Study design

From March 2013 through March 2015, we enrolled 189 newborns (96 term and 93 preterm) into a prospective, longitudinal study obtaining nose/throat swabs within 7 days of birth, weekly while hospitalized and then monthly to 4 months after hospital discharge. Taqman array cards were used to identify 16 viral respiratory pathogens by real-time polymerase chain reaction. Demographic, clinical, and laboratory data were gathered from electronic medical records, and parent interview while hospitalized with interval histories collected at monthly visits. The hospital course of all preterm infants who underwent late-onset sepsis evaluations was reviewed.


Over 119 weeks, we collected 618 nose/throat swabs from at risk preterm infants in our level IV regional NICU. Only 4 infants had viral respiratory infections, all less than 28 weeks gestation at birth. Two infants were symptomatic with the infections recognized by the clinical team. The daily risk of acquiring a respiratory viral infection in preterm infants in the NICU was significantly lower than in the full term cohort living in the community. Once discharged from the hospital, viral respiratory infections were common in all infants.


Viral respiratory infections are infrequent in a NICU with strict infection prevention strategies and do not appear to cause unrecognized illness. Both preterm and term infants living in the community quickly acquire respiratory viral infections.

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