Case Report
Case Report
Severe SARS-CoV-2 and respiratory syncytial virus co-infection in two children
expand article infoAndreana Angelova§, Mariya Atanasova§, Kostadin Ketev§, Zeyra Halil§, Ivanka Paskaleva§, Gergana Lengerova§, Teodora Dimcheva, Neli Korsun|, Mariana Murdjeva§
‡ Medical University of Plovdiv, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
§ St George University Hospital, Plovdiv, Bulgaria
| National Center of Infectious and Parasitic Diseases, Sofia, Bulgaria
Open Access


The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) affects mainly older adults. Those with comorbidities are at a higher risk of severe disease and even death. The symptomatic infection rate of children is lower, manifestations are milder, and severe forms are scarce. We present here two children with severe COVID-19 and a respiratory syncytial virus, with the goal of emphasizing the possibility of coinfection with a severe course and a different result. The microbiological diagnosis was made using multiplex PCR. This assay not only provided an early and accurate diagnosis but also aided in the implementation of contact precautions. Further research should be done to determine the influence of coinfection on the clinical course and outcome of pediatric patients.


COVID-19, multiplex PCR, RSV, severity


Since 1918, no pandemic has ever been as devastating as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that is currently sweeping the globe.[1] COVID-19 is caused by a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which has quickly spread over the globe wreaking havoc worldwide.[2] From the onset, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in more severe infections requiring hospitalization and intensive care admission in adults and older individuals, with higher mortality rates.[3]

For reasons still unclear, about 30% of the infected children are more likely than adults to have an asymptomatic infection. In addition, in the few with clinical manifestations, the disease is often mild.[4] The proportion of children with severe disease is in the range of 1-6%, even with the recently recognized pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C).[5] This is in stark contrast to other respiratory viruses such as the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This pathogen causes severe disease in infancy but is with a milder presentation in adults. The number of hospitalized children with COVID -19 during the current surge with the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 has increased. However, this can easily be explained by an overall rise in the number of COVID-19 infected children. Nevertheless, it is reassuring that the number of deaths among infected children has remained low even during the current surge.[6] Detection of SARS-CoV-2 with other respiratory pathogens in adults is infrequent and is not associated with more severe disease.[7] A few studies have addressed SARS-CoV-2 viral coinfections in children, and it is not yet clear how they might influence the clinical course or outcome.[8]

We aimed to describe severe COVID-19 in two children co-infected with RSV and underline the significance of multiplex polymerase chain reaction (mPCR) as an accurate diagnostic tool.

Case report

The two patients we present are part of a larger, still ongoing study on the potential of multiplex PCR (mPCR) used in making a rapid microbiological diagnosis of acute respiratory infections in children hospitalized in the Clinic of Pediatrics at one of the university hospitals in Plovdiv. Our study has involved 120 pediatric patients’ respiratory specimens from 2020 to the present. They were subjected to a conventional microbiological examination and mPCR (FilmArray, BioMerieux, France), which provides simultaneous detection of nucleic acids from multiple viral and bacterial respiratory pathogens in a single sample. Written informed consent was obtained from the patient’s legal guardians before enrollment. The mPCR FilmArray Respiratory Panel was used to test the nasopharyngeal swabs for respiratory pathogens while FilmArray Pneumonia Panel Plus was used to test the lower respiratory tract specimens. In addition, since 2021, mPCR Respiratory panel has been in use and 40 patients have been tested. This assay can detect the membrane protein (M) and spike protein (S) genes of SARS-CoV-2. [9]

In two of these 40 patients treated in late 2021, SARS-CoV-2 and RSV were co-detected.

Case 1

A two-month-old previously healthy male patient was admitted to the hospital for bronchiolitis. His rapid antigen test for SARS-CoV-2 was negative. Because his oxygen saturation was 70% on ambient air, supplemental oxygen was given via nasal cannula. On hospital day 5, the physical findings suspected atelectasis, which was confirmed by a chest X-ray, and the child was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit. SARS-CoV-2 and RSV were detected from his nasopharyngeal swab by mPCR (Table 1). The local health authorities were notified, and an epidemiological investigation commenced. The patient was treated with humidified supplemental oxygen, antibiotics, corticosteroids, and bronchodilators; intravenous immunoglobulin was given once. He recovered uneventfully and was discharged on day 14.

Case 2

A 16-month-old previously healthy female patient was admitted to the ICU for COVID-19 pneumonia after being treated in another hospital. SARS-CoV-2 was detected from her nasopharyngeal swab by mPCR together with RSV (Table 1). The following day, the patient rapidly deteriorated, was intubated, and was placed on mechanical ventilation. Despite treatment with remdesivir, vasopressor support, antibiotics, intravenous immunoglobulin, fresh frozen plasma, corticosteroids, anticoagulation medications, she continued to deteriorate and developed heart injury with severe hypotension, refractory hypoxemia, seizures, and acute kidney failure in the last few days, necessitating peritoneal dialysis. She died of multiorgan failure on day 19. Some characteristics of the patients are shown in Table 2.

Table 1.

FilmArray Multiplex PCR Respiratory 2.1. plus panel (Biofire®) results in the two patients with a total run time of about 45 minutes

Viruses Bacteria
Adenovirus Influenza A Bordetella pertussis
Coronavirus 229E Influenza A/H1 Bordetella parapertussis
Coronavirus HKU1 Influenza A/H1-2009 Chlamydophila pneumoniae
Coronavirus OC43 Influenza A/H3 Mycoplasma pneumoniae
Coronavirus NL63 Influenza B
MERS-CoV Parainfluenza 1
ü SARS-CoV-2 detected Parainfluenza 2
Parainfluenza 3
Human metapneumovirus Parainfluenza 4
Human rhinovirus/enterovirus ü RSV detected
Table 2.

Some characteristics of the two patients

Characteristic Patient 1 Patient 2
Age (months) 2 16
Gender Male Female
Exposure Yes * Yes
Respiratory involvement Bronchiolitis Pneumonia
CXR Hyperinflated lung fields, atelectasis, the left apical region Bilateral ground-glass opacities
Other organs involvement
Heart No Yes
CNS No Yes
Kidneys No Yes
Some blood investigations
CRP, mg/l (<10)** 0.0 16.5
Ferritin, µg/l (113-150) Not tested 567
LDH, U/l (134-214) Not tested 1935
Remdesivir No Yes
Corticosteroids Yes Yes
Antibiotic treatment Yes Yes
Supplemental oxygen Yes Yes ***
Intravenous globulin Yes Yes
Peritoneal dialysis No Yes
Clinical course
ICU Yes, 5 days Yes
Duration of hospitalization, days 15 19
Outcome Recovery Death


We presented two children with severe COVID-19 co-infected with RSV with different outcomes – favorable in the male patient and fatal in the female patient. Both children had no comorbidities or risk factors for the severe course. Our results not only confirmed the diagnostic significance of mPCR, but they also pointed out its epidemiological importance. We are not aware of a study of this kind in Bulgaria.

Compared to those in older adults, the clinical manifestations of SARS-CoV-2 infections in children are relatively benign. Asymptomatic infections or mild diseases predominate and the number of hospitalizations is low.[10, 11] Possible contributing factors include more robust early innate immune response, cross-protection from previous coronavirus infections, difference in ACE2 expression, protective off-target vaccination effects, and greater memory T-cell diversity.[12–14] Fatalities have been infrequent and mostly in children with severe comorbidities, such as medical complexity, obesity, and diabetes.[10, 11] None of these factors were present in the children we discuss. Similar to the cases in this study, Oualha et al.[15] reported a fatal outcome in three children without underlying diseases.

Two forms of severe COVID-19 in children have been reported: a primary pulmonary disease with diffuse alveolar damage, or MIS-C with the involvement of several organs.[16] Serious but rare manifestation, MIS-C is characterized by fever, rash, conjunctivitis, abdominal pain, and cardiac dysfunction. MIS-C is more common in older children, presents later in the disease, and has a favorable outcome.[17, 18] Conversely, the patients we presented were young children, treated during the first 10 days of the disease with none of these manifestations, and one died.

Diagnostic testing has been front and center in the COVID-19 pandemic and viral detection by nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) such as PCR plays a primary role in the diagnosis. Advanced microbiological methods such as mPCR allow for increased recognition of respiratory pathogens. In addition, it can provide simultaneous detection of multiple respiratory pathogens in cases of mixed infections, including ones of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses.[9] The mPCR confirmed SARS-CoV-2 in the female patient, already diagnosed in another hospital, and also revealed RSV (Table 1). Moreover, surprisingly, it detected SARS-CoV-2 in the male patient who had a typical course of severe bronchitis. Thus, it was difficult to ascertain its precise role as an acting pathogen. However, this unexpected but important finding resulted in contact tracing and quarantine for potential SARS-CoV-2 cases in the household – public health measures strategies still crucial for controlling the SARS-CoV-2 expansion. The mPCR positive results for SARS-CoV-2 in both patients were confirmed in a second-day nasopharyngeal sample in the Virology Laboratory of the aforementioned hospital using Real-Time PCR (Bioneer, South Korea). This assay targets two different genes – the E-gene and the RdRp-gene of the viral RNA. Later, SARS-CoV-2 and RSV results in one of the patients were also confirmed in the Reference Laboratory of Influenza and Acute Respiratory Diseases, National Center of Infectious and Parasitic Diseases, Sofia. As the second child died, it was not possible to collect and send more specimens for such confirmation to be carried out.

Some common respiratory viruses are shed very frequently in asymptomatic children.[19] There are a few studies on the simultaneous detection of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory pathogens in children. It is not yet clear how they might affect the clinical course or outcome. The most commonly involved pathogen was M. pneumoniae, and other respiratory viruses such as RSV and influenza viruses were revealed rarely.[8] Co-infection of SARS-CoV-2 and RSV can pose significant challenges regarding diagnosis and treatment but is not yet associated with more severe disease. Alvares[20] discussed SARS-CoV-2 and RSV co-detection in 6 children and did not find any differences regarding the need for intensive care, mechanical ventilation, or mortality rates. Nevertheless, given the major role of RSV in bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children, we consider RSV a contributory factor in the severe course, especially in the female patient. Similar to Ozaras et al.[21], we detected the two viruses only at admission and did not know their dynamic, shedding, and interactions, which is a limitation of our study. Further studies are required for a better understanding of this coinfection dynamic.


Our results confirm that, although rarely, a life-threatening disease in SARS-CoV-2-infected children may occur. In addition, mPCR not only provides an early and accurate diagnosis but also unravels SARS-CoV-2 infection in the patient with bronchiolitis. Thus, mPCR may aid in the implementation of contact precautions. The simultaneous detection of RSV merits special attention. Recognition of SARS-CoV-2 associated with other respiratory pathogens can allow understanding of the different clinical features. Moreover, it can aid the appropriate therapeutic management and infection control.


This article was funded by 1. Intra-university project ”DPDP-02/2020” Medical University of Plovdiv, and 2. Project “National University Complex for Biomedical and Applied Research, linked to participation in BBMRI-ERIC (NUCCI-BBMRI.BG), Contracts D01-285 / 17.12.2019 and D01 395 / 18.12.2020, within the National Roadmap for Research Infrastructure (2020 – 2027).


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