A newly discovered virus may be responsible for many respiratory tract illnesses in infants and children, and may be associated with an important multi-organ disease whose cause has remained a mystery for decades, according to articles in the Feb. 15 issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases, now available online. The virus is one of the numerous coronaviruses, most of which infect animals. In humans, coronaviruses have been known primarily for causing colds or, more recently, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Genetic evidence now suggests that a previously unknown coronavirus may account for some of the many respiratory diseases for which a causative agent is unidentified, and may have a role in Kawasaki disease, the most common cause of acquired heart disease in children in developed countries.
In the first of two studies, Jeffrey S. Kahn and co-workers at Yale University used molecular probes targeting a gene that is common in human and animal coronaviruses to screen hundreds of specimens for coronavirus genetic material. Ultimately, two specimens were identified in which the sequence of chemical building blocks of the gene differed from that of known human coronaviruses. The Yale investigators, terming the novel virus indicated by their findings the New Haven coronavirus, then used probes specific for the virus to screen respiratory specimens from 895 symptomatic children under age 5 who had tested negative for other viral infections. They found 79 (9 percent) who were positive for the new virus, nine of whom were subsequently found to have evidence of recent infection with another virus as well. Of the remaining 67 patients for whom clinical data were available, signs and symptoms of infection with the new virus included fever, cough, runny nose, rapid breathing, abnormal breath sounds, and hypoxia; 35 had an underlying condition, such as prematurity (19 patients). Indeed, 11 of those infected with the new coronavirus were newborns hospitalized in intensive care.
Analysis of the New Haven coronavirus’s genetic structure showed many similarities to that of a coronavirus recently identified by two groups in the Netherlands, suggesting that the virus may have worldwide distribution.
Steve Baragona | EurekAlert!
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