Hundreds of children are admitted to the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) and are treated for infectious diseases including meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia, croup, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and hepatitis. These infectious diseases can spread rapidly and in a variety of ways such as: through the air, from direct or indirect contact with another person, skin or bodily fluids such as saliva and blood, through food, as well as through poor hygiene.
However, each year the Queensland Paediatric Infectious Diseases (QPID) research team at the Royal Children’s Hospital, which is commonly known as the ‘Bug Detectives’ is leading the way to fight against potentially life-threatening diseases children face each year.
Since 1997, with the help of donations from the corporate sector, individuals and broader community, the Bug Detectives have increased the development of diagnostic tests from 12 to 60, so many more life-threatening bugs can be detected and treated faster and more effectively than ever before.
It was thanks to generosity such as this that scientists from the Royal Children’s Hospital developed a world-first PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test that has reduced the diagnosis time for the meningococcal disease from three days to less than one hour – precious time that could mean the difference of life or death to a family and their child.
A significant part of the lab’s work is looking at emerging viruses within the community and their impact on children. So when news first broke of the swine flu outbreak overseas in April 2009, the ears of infectious disease researchers at the lab pricked up. As soon as an advisory was issued recommending all Australians returning from affected countries should be screened for the virus, a team of researchers swung into action, to develop a rapid swine flu test. Within 10 short days, researchers completed their mission, creating a one-hour test that confirmed the first case of swine flu in Australia. The test was then shared with laboratories around the nation.
Researchers at the Royal Children’s Hospital were the first in Australia to identify a new respiratory virus, human metapneumovirus (hMPV). Associate Professor Michael Nissen, RCH Director of Infectious Diseases and Associate Professor Theo Sloots, Head of Research at QPID, made the discovery after performing DNA tests on 328 nasal secretion samples taken from children requiring treatment for respiratory tract infections.
Results showed that up to 9% of children tested positive for hMPV, with routine laboratory tests showing negative for the other common respiratory viruses.This breakthrough means the exact cause of bronchiolitis can now be identified in an additional 9% of children. It will also assist medical practitioners with a faster, more effective diagnosis and treatment of this illness, as well as prevent unnecessary antibiotic use.