Early human respiratory syncytial virus infection weakens language learning in kids
Infection with the human respiratory syncytial virus (hRSV) may lead to a severe respiratory disease which, in the long-run, could impair memory and language-learning, a recent study has found.
Eighty-nine infants participated in the study: 25 had an hRSV infection at 6 months and 20 at 12 months. Twenty-one and 23 noninfected controls at the respective age points were also included. Electroencephalography (EEG) experiments were conducted to measure the infants’ mismatch response (MMR), indicative of the ability to distinguish between native and non-native phonemes and, in turn, eventual reading skill.
At both 6 and 12 months of age, repeated-measures analysis of variance found a significant effect of group (infected vs controls). In particular, phonetic MMR was significantly more negative in noninfected controls for both the native (p=0.015) and non-native (p=0.018) contrasts. This indicates that control infants were more sensitive to the phonetic contrasts, in keeping with the typical pattern observed at this age.
By 12 months, control infants continued along the typical path of language development, seeing a flattening in the sensitivity to non-native phonemes. In hRSV-infected participants, however, MMR amplitude remained elevated, such that it was significantly greater than in controls (p=0.007).
In a subsequent experiment including 32 12-month-old (16 from either group) children, noninfected controls understood, said, or otherwise used a significantly greater sum of first phrases, words, and gests than their hRSV counterparts (p=0.03).
The present findings implicate severe hRSV respiratory infections in impaired language learning, which remained true “even though the infants from hRSV and control groups did not significantly differ in infants’ age, infants’ sex, maternal education, maternal age, and socioeconomic level, and, beyond the history of severe hRSV infection, had a similar developmental history.”