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Scope 46 - When a baby's cough and cold turns into something a lot more serious

1 October 2011

The leading cause of hospitalisation of babies and infants in New Zealand is bronchiolitis - a viral infection of the small airways in the lungs that causes severe breathing difficulties.

Visit an early childhood facility and you can guarantee that there will be at least one child there with a finger strategically placed to sample the delights of the contents lurking up their nose.  Dr Joanna Kirman’s Infectious Diseases team is interested in the same thing, only a sterile swab is used to do the digging!

Dr Kirman is part of an international collaborative study led by Dr Tristram Ingham from the Wellington Asthma Research Group, University of Otago, Wellington, involving over a thousand Wellington children under the age of two.  The purpose of the study is to understand why some kiwi kids, particularly M?ori and Pacific infants, are more likely to develop severe lower respiratory tract infections and require hospitalisation.  The ‘nasal samples’ will be tested by Dr Kirman to determine what respiratory viruses are present in them - one of several different risk factors being explored in the study.

The researchers will also investigate whether vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased bronchiolitis severity. Vitamin D is produced in human skin when the body is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, such as sunlight.  During winter months, when bronchiolitis infections are most common, children tend to spend more time indoors and therefore produce less vitamin D.

By identifying the specific risk factors that contribute towards New Zealand’s high bronchiolitis hospitalisation rates, Dr Kirman and colleagues will be able to provide recommendations for intervention strategies that mitigate their impact.