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Respiratory syncytial virus is a more important cause of respiratory infections than influenza in children under the age of four, according to a study of children presenting in UK general practice.

Researchers found RSV was twice as likely as flu to cause acute bronchitis and was the sole identified cause of excess asthma diagnoses.

In under-fours, 68 per cent of excess winter cases of acute bronchitis occurred during periods of RSV activity compared with 32 per cent during flu activity. 'The take-home message is that in terms of respiratory illness RSV is more important then flu,' said Dr Alex Elliot, study researcher and primary care scientist for the RCGP and Health Protection Agency.

'There is a vaccine for RSV nearing completion. If we had an effective vaccine programme we could reduce respiratory illness in this group.'

The study was published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood this week.

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