November is National Prematurity Awareness Month

(November 5, 2010)

November is National Prematurity Awareness Month and the American Lung Association is raising awareness about a virus that has an impact on this country’s most vulnerable patient population: infants and small children.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) infection causes pneumonia and acute bronchiolitis, particularly during fall and winter.  In fact, RSV is so common that it affects almost all children by their second birthday.  For older children, the symptoms are like those of a mild cold.  However about 75,000 to 125,000 children under a year old get very sick and are hospitalized with RSV infection each year. 

The major risk factors for serious RSV infection are pre-existing conditions such as chronic lung disease and congenital heart disease.  However, research also points to two additional RSV risk factors: prematurity and living with people who smoke.  A study found that there are 22,000 hospitalizations of children from RSV each year related to parental secondhand smoke.

Much of this is preventable.  The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.  It is a risk factor not only for acute respiratory infections such as RSV bronchitis and pneumonia but also sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), ear problems and asthma attacks for children.

Premature infants exposed to secondhand smoke are particularly at risk because of underdeveloped defenses.  Secondhand smoke can increase the potential severity of a commonplace infection like RSV—and severely impact the health of infants and small children nationwide.  So, it’s critical for all homes to be smokefree. 

If you are struggling to quit smoking, visit the American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking® Online for help quitting today. 

As part of National Prematurity Awareness Month, this educational information is brought to you by the American Lung Association and MedImmune


  1. Shay DK, Holman RC, Newman RD, Liu LL, Stout JW, Anderson LJ.  Bronchiolitis-associated hospitalizations among U.S. children, 1980–1996.  JAMA 1999;282:1440–6.
  2. Bradley, Joseph P., Bacharier, Leonard B., Bonfiglio, JoAnn, Schechtman, Kenneth B., Strunk, Robert, Storch, Gregory, Castro, Mario.  Severity of respiratory syncytial virus bronchiolitis is affected by cigarette smoke exposure and atopy.  Pediatrics 2005 115: e7-e14.
  3. Aligne C, Stoddard J.  Tobacco and children.  An economic evaluation of the medical effects of parental smoking.  Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1997;151:648–53.