Malaysian researchers are investigating the epidemiology of severe viral respiratory infections in young children in hopes of developing rapid diagnostic tools to better control their transmission.

Acute respiratory tract infection (ARI) is a major cause of death and disease around the world, particularly in young children.

Illustration showing the structure of the rhinovirus. Image:

According to a 1995 study published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, ARI accounts for about 25% of deaths in children under the age of five in developing countries. In Malaysia, respiratory tract infections are the fourth leading cause of hospitalization in children under the age of five.

Bacterial pathogens often contribute to severe lower respiratory tract infections. But most ARI cases in developed countries are caused by a handful of respiratory viruses including adenovirus, coronavirus, influenza virus, parainfluenza virus, rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus.

In temperate countries, there is a clear seasonal activity of respiratory viruses with peaks during the cold winter months. In tropical countries, however, the “correlation of respiratory viral activity with climatic factors is not so well defined,” according to Professor David Perera and his colleagues at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS). “An awareness of the epidemiology and seasonality of these infections is needed to increase the effectiveness of any planned vaccination and prophylaxis programs besides the treatment of respiratory virus infection.”

Professor Perera’s team plans to examine the clinical characteristics, causative agents and seasonality of ARI cases among young children who have been admitted to a paediatric intensive care unit in Sarawak, in the northwest of Borneo. The researchers will then attempt to develop rapid and affordable diagnostic assays optimized for use in a Sarawak hospital setting. Their goal is to create diagnostic tools that can simultaneously identify several different viruses, not only to help control the transmission of ARI but also to avoid the misuse of antibiotics, which are only effective against bacteria.

“As part of a win-win situation, we have established an online reporting system with the doctors at three major government hospitals to provide laboratory viral identification results,” reports Professor Perera. “So far we’ve managed to identify a number of respiratory viruses that were not previously identified in Sarawak by routine hospital laboratory investigations.”


For further information contact:

Associate Professor David Perera
Institute of Health and Community Medicine
Universiti Malaysia Sarawak