Researchers at the Telethon Kids Institute have constructed a WA Respiratory Infections Linked Data Platform – using hundreds of thousands of birth records across Western Australia – to conduct research on respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and other respiratory infections and guide prevention programs.

RSV is the leading cause of pneumonia in babies and children with Australian reports estimating health care costs between $59 million to $121 million each year.

The platform links population data from a number of different health databases on a cohort of children and will help estimate the true burden of respiratory infections in children, information that is vital in the calculation of the cost effectiveness of interventions and prevention programs.

It will also help identify at-risk groups for RSV and other respiratory infections and provide a rich data source for exploring other areas of research, such as viral testing patterns, long-term impacts of infections, and indirect impacts of maternal and childhood vaccines.

RSV prevention has seen significant advancements in recent years, with the development of a maternal vaccine and a monoclonal antibody called nirsevimab, the latter which has been shown in clinical trials to reduce hospitalisation due to RSV infection in infants by 80 per cent. Nirsevimab is now approved for use in the US, EU and in Australia and was rolled out for the northern 2023/2024 winter and will be implemented in Western Australia for the southern 2024 winter.

The research, published today in The International Journal of Population Data Science (IJPDS), will use data on a cohort of 368,830 children born between 2010 to 2020, pulled from 14 different databases.

Lead author Dr Minda Sarna, an epidemiologist from the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at Telethon Kids Institute and Curtin University’s School of Population Health, said linked population data in this platform allows us to address research gaps in the epidemiology of childhood respiratory infections.  

“Currently the platform provides information about emergency department presentations, hospitalisations, deaths and associated health care measures, such as length of hospital stay and in-hospital procedures – with age-group and sub-population distinctions,” Dr Sarna said.

“As data is refreshed in the future, it will be possible to test the effects of RSV prevention strategies to guide public health decisions.”

Future research plans include the addition of data from the Australian Immunisation Register, Medicare Benefits Scheme and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to conduct studies on direct, indirect and non-specific maternal and childhood vaccine effects on a range of outcomes.

The platform will also generate data for other respiratory viruses on the vaccine pipeline in the future.

The article Cohort profile: A population-based record linkage platform to address critical epidemiological evidence gaps in respiratory syncytial virus and other respiratory infections is available here.


Dr Minda Sarna, Senior Research Officer, and Dr Belaynew Taye, Research Officer, Telethon Kids Institute, Perth, Australia

Sarna, M. (Minda), Taye, B., Le, H., Giannini, F., Glass, K., Blyth, C., Richmond, P., Glauert, R., Levy, A. and Moore, H. (2024) “Cohort profile: A population-based record linkage platform of administrative health records to address critical evidence gaps in respiratory syncytial virus epidemiology”, International Journal of Population Data Science, 9(2). doi: 10.23889/ijpds.v9i2.2376.