Geelong scientists sequence new virus affecting babies

20 March 2017

GCEID scientists have sequenced a new virus that affects babies, in an important first step towards combating the illness.

Geelong scientists have sequenced the genetic material of a new virus that has seen young babies hospitalised across south‐eastern Australia.

The scientists were from the Geelong Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases (GCEID) – a partnership between Deakin University, Barwon Health and CSIRO. Their work has built understanding of how the genome works and will provide crucial information for developing a vaccination or treatment.

The research findings were recently published in the journal “Nature: Scientific Reports,” in a paper entitled, “An outbreak of severe infections among Australian infants caused by a novel recombinant strain of human parechovirus type 3”.

GCEID Director Professor Soren Alexandersen said the result demonstrated the combined strength of Geelong’s growing health and biotechnology sector.

Professor Alexandersen first came across the virus in 2015 when he was alerted by paediatricians at University Hospital Geelong.

“Our colleagues from Barwon Health had young babies coming in very sick and were diagnosing them with a new virus they hadn’t seen before, so we thought we should take a closer look,” Professor Alexandersen said.

The virus was confirmed as human parechovirus type 3, but a strain that had never been documented before.

“Human parechovirus type 3 was first described in Japan in 2004. The first outbreak in Australia was in Sydney in 2013, and then we had this second, more serious, outbreak including Geelong, Melbourne and South Australia, two years later,” Professor Alexandersen said.

“When we sequenced it we discovered that half of the virus is what we’ve seen in Japan before and the other half we haven’t seen reported anywhere before.”

Professor Alexandersen said viruses like these often recombine, and virus genetic molecules can combine from a piece of one parent virus and a piece from another parent virus infecting the same cell, to create a new strain.

The GCEID team will now investigate how the transmission of the virus may take place and look at prevention and treatment options.

Barwon Health paediatrician Professor Peter Vuillermin noted that parechovirus could cause severe disease, but the infants from the 2015 outbreak recovered well.

“Parents should trust their instincts. If they have the sense that their baby may be significantly unwell, they should seek medical attention,” Professor Vuillermin said.

He suggested that parents should seek a medical review if their baby:

  • Appears unwell;
  • Has a fever and is less than three months old;
  • Is drinking less than half of their normal amount for a prolonged period;
  • Has had less than four wet nappies in 24 hours;
  • Is more sleepy than usual;
  • Is having problems with breathing;
  • Is pale and hot;
  • Has fever and a rash; or
  • Appears to be in pain.
Professor Soren Alexandersen, Director GCEID

Key Fact

Professor Soren Alexandersen, Director GCEID

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