Open Access Research article

Modeling the variations in pediatric respiratory syncytial virus seasonal epidemics

Molly Leecaster1*, Per Gesteland2, Tom Greene1, Nephi Walton2, Adi Gundlapalli1, Robert Rolfs3, Carrie Byington2 and Matthew Samore1

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Epidemiology, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, USA

2 Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, USA

3 Division of Disease Control and Prevention, Utah Department of Health, Salt Lake City, USA

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2011, 11:105  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-11-105

Published: 21 April 2011



Seasonal respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) epidemics occur annually in temperate climates and result in significant pediatric morbidity and increased health care costs. Although RSV epidemics generally occur between October and April, the size and timing vary across epidemic seasons and are difficult to predict accurately. Prediction of epidemic characteristics would support management of resources and treatment.


The goals of this research were to examine the empirical relationships among early exponential growth rate, total epidemic size, and timing, and the utility of specific parameters in compartmental models of transmission in accounting for variation among seasonal RSV epidemic curves. RSV testing data from Primary Children's Medical Center were collected on children under two years of age (July 2001-June 2008). Simple linear regression was used explore the relationship between three epidemic characteristics (final epidemic size, days to peak, and epidemic length) and exponential growth calculated from four weeks of daily case data. A compartmental model of transmission was fit to the data and parameter estimated used to help describe the variation among seasonal RSV epidemic curves.


The regression results indicated that exponential growth was correlated to epidemic characteristics. The transmission modeling results indicated that start time for the epidemic and the transmission parameter co-varied with the epidemic season.


The conclusions were that exponential growth was somewhat empirically related to seasonal epidemic characteristics and that variation in epidemic start date as well as the transmission parameter over epidemic years could explain variation in seasonal epidemic size. These relationships are useful for public health, health care providers, and infectious disease researchers.