A new study will expose healthy adult volunteers to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a virus that causes cold-like symptoms in adults. Better understanding of how adults develop RSV infection and immune system responses to infection will assist researchers in developing and testing future antivirals and vaccines to combat the virus. The research is being conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.

RSV is the most common cause of lower respiratory tract infections — including pneumonia and bronchiolitis mdash; among young children worldwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the United States each year, RSV leads to an average of about 55,000 hospitalizations among children younger than 5 years, with most of these hospitalizations involving infants younger than 6 months. Healthy adults infected with RSV tend to develop cold-like symptoms and recover without any problems, but the infection can cause severe disease in premature infants, children younger than two years with heart or lung problems, children and adults with weakened immune systems, and the elderly. RSV infection causes roughly 14,000 deaths annually among U.S. adults older than 65 years.

“Challenge studies such as this are a unique way of enabling scientists to monitor, in a controlled setting, the natural history of a disease in exquisite detail, using the most powerful tools of molecular biology,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “By studying RSV infection in healthy adults, we hope to improve understanding of how this infection develops and determine the suitability of this particular strain of the virus for use in future RSV vaccine and treatment trials.”

The NIAID pilot study, led by Lesia K. Dropulic, M.D., of NIAID’s Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, will enroll up to 60 healthy men and non-pregnant women ages 18-50 years. Study participants will receive a drop of liquid containing RSV in each nostril and will remain hospitalized in isolation at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, for approximately one to two weeks. This is being done both to allow for monitoring of the study volunteers and because RSV is highly contagious.

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