One more respiratory virus in children, and this one possibly linked to cancer, has been discovered by Australian scientists.
After a five-year study, associate professors Theo Sloots and Michael Nissen of the Royal Children's Hospital in Brisbane, have found the WU polyomavirus in 44 patients, including 38 from Brisbane and six from the US.
WU virus is a new virus associated with severe respiratory tract infection in children but also belongs to a family of viruses - the polyomaviruses - which have been linked with cancer.
WU stands for Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, which collaborated in the study by providing testing facilities not available in Brisbane.
Most of the patients were children aged three or younger who had been taken to hospital with classic symptoms of severe respiratory tract infection (RTI) such as coughs, fever, wheezing or shortness of breath.
Researchers felt the discovery was particularly exciting because it offered hope to children with severe but unidentifiable RTIs.
Knowing the polyomavirus was a cause of RTIs in children would enable doctors to isolate them from others with weak immune systems and stop unnecessary antibiotic medication.
However, parents with young children with coughs and colds could breathe easly.
'At this point there is no cause for alarm,' Prof Nissen said.
'What we have found is a virus that we do think causes respiratory disease in children and all of those children, to our knowledge, who have had the virus, have recovered fully.'
Though the new virus is closely related to the papillomavirus which leads to cervical cancer, Prof Nissen said that the Gardasil vaccine, which has been developed to prevent cervical cancer, could not be adapted for the polyomavirus.
He said it had been linked to brain tumours in laboratory monkeys but debate continued about whether the viruses were also associated with respiratory tumours.
Prof Sloots said the development of a vaccine from scratch could take between 15 and 20 years.
'What we need to do first of all is identify how the virus replicates in the body and that includes looking to see if it actually causes cancer,' Prof Sloots said.
The two academics will follow the progress of the children identified with polyomavirus, to see if they have created antibodies to fight it and if they have any developed long-term respiratory tract disease.
Their research has been published in this month's peer reviewed scientific and medical journal, Pathogens.