Childhood respiratory infection linked to adult mortality


In a recent study, the risk of death from respiratory diseases during adulthood almost doubled in individuals who experienced a lower respiratory tract infection at a young age.

Being infected with a respiratory illness as a child increases the risk of dying because of a respiratory disease when aged 26 to 73 years, according to a recent study.

Worldwide, 7% of deaths are attributed to respiratory diseases, highlighting the major public health problem they present. Lower respiratory tract infection (LRTI) in infants has been associated with impaired lung function, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in adulthood.

It is often believed that death from respiratory diseases during adulthood is only linked to factors such as smoking during adulthood or socioeconomic status. Little data exists on the link between childhood LRTI infection and risk of death from respiratory illnesses as an adult.

To gather evidence on the link between LRTI infection in childhood and death from respiratory illness in adulthood, investigators conducted a study using data from a nationwide British cohort. Of the participants, 25% reported having an LRTI when aged under 2 years. Death prior to age 73 was seen in 19% of participants, 8% of which were from LRTI.

Over the8-decade long study, children infected with an LRTI when aged under 2 years were at almost double the risk of dying from an LRTI during adulthood. Investigators believed this could account for 1 in 5 premature deaths because of respiratory illness in Wales and England from 1972 to 2019.

Adjustments were made for socioeconomic status, but other factors may have gone unreported. Also, LRTI before age 2 years was only associated with an increased risk of premature death from respiratory diseases, and no other illnesses such as cancers or heart disease.

“Linking 1 in 5 of adult respiratory deaths to common infections many decades earlier in childhood shows the need to target risk well before adulthood,” said James Allinson, MRCP, PhD, lead author of the study.“To prevent the perpetuation of existing adult health inequalities we need to optimize childhood health, not least by tackling childhood poverty.”


The Lancet: Contracting a respiratory infection in early childhood associated with a higher risk of dying from respiratory disease as an adult, study finds. The Lancet. March 7, 2023. Accessed March 7, 2023.

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