August 22, 2005

New childhood virus tied to respiratory infections

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Swedish researchers said on Monday
they had identified a previously unknown virus that may cause
many cases of serious respiratory infections in children.

They named the virus human bocavirus and suggested the
researchers start a systematic search for all the viruses that
cause respiratory infections.

The report, published in this week's issue of the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, underlines how
little doctors know about the sources of most respiratory

A separate team of California researchers found they could
only identify about 40 percent of viruses infecting patients,
and both teams said rapid testing for viruses would be useful
in diagnosing and treating respiratory illnesses.

Health experts say this step was particularly important
because there are fears that influenza, in particular avian
influenza, could cause a global pandemic.

Being able to test quickly to find out what is making
someone sick can mean the difference between life and death
because antiviral medications must be given early on to prevent
serious illness in the case of influenza.

In their sample of 540 children in a pediatric hospital
ward, the new bocavirus was responsible for 17 of the cases,
the Swedish researchers found.

"Lower respiratory tract infection is a leading cause for
hospitalization of infants and young children and accounts for
250,000 hospitalizations a year in the United States alone,"
Tobias Allander of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and
colleagues wrote in their report.

"The most important viral agent in this group of patients
is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Other important agents
are influenza viruses, parainfluenza viruses, adenoviruses,
rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, and human metapneumovirus."

But the causes of between 12 percent and 39 percent of
these serious infections are never identified, the researchers

In a second study, Janice Louie of the California
Department of Health Services, Lawrence Drew of the University
of California, San Francisco and colleagues checked patients
reporting to the hospital with flulike illness including
"unspecified upper respiratory infection," acute bronchitis,
sinus infections and pneumonia.

They could only identify a virus in 103, or 39 percent, of
the patients. These included influenza A or B in 54 patients,
picornavirus in 28, RSV in 12, human metapneumovirus in four
and human coronavirus OC43 in two patients.