A few years ago, hospital workers began to see an increase in the number of sick infants who had unrecognized strains of human rhinovirus. This led to a new class of rhinovirus, called group C. Researchers have reported that human rhinovirus type C (HRVC) now accounts for about half of all rhinovirus-associated hospitalizations for children under 5. Children with HRVC were also more likely to have a diagnosis of asthma, either before hospitalization or at discharge.
Kathryn Miller, M.D., M.P.H., Pediatric Allergist with Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN, says the study appears to show that in children with asthma, HRVC can cause severe illness, leading to an exacerbation of asthma symptoms. The infections also seemed to trigger wheezing symptoms in children who had no prior diagnosis of asthma. The link with rhinovirus infection may help explain the epidemic of asthma cases typically seen in September, when children are returning to school and spreading germs to one another.
Miller says the results show there is a strong link between the common cold virus and asthma. However, researchers don’t know if the rhinovirus actually causes asthma in undiagnosed children, or if virus triggers pre-existing disease. Further studies need to be done to look at the exact relationship between the two diseases. In the meantime, Miller suggests everyone continue to follow good hygiene practices and wash their hands to prevent the spread of rhinoviruses and other types of viral illnesses.