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We thank Dr Hyvärinen and colleagues for their insightful comments on our recent paper on asthma and allergy outcome at age 18 years after severe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) bronchiolitis during the first year of life1 and for their contribution of as yet unpublished findings from their 18-year follow-up of the Finnish cohort.2 Their data, obtained in subjects previously hospitalised with bronchiolitis in the first 2 years of life (25/81 cases tested for RSV were positive and 19/66 were positive for rhinovirus), confirm our findings of increased asthma rates up to early adulthood. The Finnish study extends these findings by including severe bronchiolitis due to other viral agents, most notably rhinovirus, which is today a well-recognised risk factor for later wheezing illness.3 Interestingly, in the Finnish cohort of hospitalised subjects aged <24 months, RSV predominated in those aged <6 months and rhinovirus in those aged 6–24 months. While rhinovirus carried the greatest risk of asthma at age 12 years, the increased rates of asthma at age 18 were similar in former RSV- and rhinovirus-infected subjects. What remains unclear, regardless of the underlying viral aetiology, is whether these episodes of severe bronchiolitis are simply identifying those infants already at a predisposed risk of subsequent wheezing illness in later childhood or whether a true causative role of viral infection exists. In our cohort only one of the infants had a previous episode of wheezing, and we are therefore confident that their RSV bronchiolitis represents their first lower respiratory tract insult.
If stratification by age and viral type are incorporated in future studies, it would be important to ensure that the confounding effects of previous viral infections are taken into account if a causal relationship is to be investigated. Ideally, such studies should also include premorbid assessment of lung function and allergic sensitisation, and identified genetic risk factors.
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