The virus, called human bocavirus, was identified by the team using a new method for virus discovery on respiratory tract samples drawn from children at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm.
Their findings are published in the latest issue of PNAS (the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA).
Respiratory problems caused by infection of the lower respiratory tract are a leading cause of hospitalisation of children. In about 20% of cases, doctors have no idea what causes the problem. The Swedish team detected the bocavirus in 3 percent of cases of serious lower respiratory tract infection.
“Viral infections are one of the world’s most serious health problems,” says virus researcher Tobias Allander at the Karolinska Institute’s Centre for Molecular Medicine.
“They can cause everything from AIDS to the common cold, and they kill thousands of people a day. Despite this, we do not have a full picture of all the viruses that infect humans.”
Dr. Allander and colleague Björn Andersson have now developed a method that makes it possible to systematically scan samples for unknown viruses.
Until now it has been almost impossible to separate the virus from the ordinary bacteria and cells in a patient’s sample. Any virus only makes up a tiny component of the sample, if that.
“It is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, and the problem with unknown viruses is that we don’t even know what the needle looks like,” Allander told TT.
“We believe that the most important aspect of our discovery is that it will enable the discovery of many more viruses, and this may help us solve important medical questions.”
Dr. Allander’s first experiments detected seven human virus species without the use of any specific reagent. Among the detected viruses were two which were at that time uncharacterised. One of those is associated with lower respiratory tract infections in children.
“The discovery does not have an immediate advantage for sick children, since the treatment is the same, whatever the virus. But in the long run it means we can begin to develop a vaccine,” said Allander.