Clinical definition of respiratory viral infections in young children and potential bronchiolitis misclassification

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Abstract

Viral respiratory infections are often grouped as a single respiratory syndrome named ‘viral bronchiolitis’, independently of the viral etiology or individual risk factors. Clinical trials and guidelines have used a more stringent definition of viral bronchiolitis, including only the first episode of wheezing in children less than 12 months of age without concomitant respiratory comorbidities. There is increasing evidence suggesting that this definition is not being followed by pediatric care providers, but it is unclear to what extent viral respiratory infections are currently misclassified as viral bronchiolitis using standard definitions. We conducted a retrospective analysis of hospitalized young children (≤3 years) due to viral respiratory infections. Bronchiolitis was defined as the first wheezing episode less than 12 months of age. Demographic variables and comorbidities were obtained by electronic medical record review. The study comprised a total of 513 hospitalizations (n=453). Viral bronchiolitis was diagnosed in 144 admissions (28.1%). Notably, we identified that the majority of children diagnosed with bronchiolitis (63%) were misclassified as they had prior episodes of wheezing. Many children with bronchiolitis misclassification had significant comorbidities, including prematurity (51%), neuromuscular conditions (9.8%), and congenital heart disease (9.8%). Misclassification of bronchiolitis is a common problem that may lead to inappropriate management of viral respiratory infections in young children. A comprehensive approach that takes into consideration viral etiology and individual risk factors may lead to a more accurate clinical assessment of this condition and would potentially prevent bronchiolitis misclassification.

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