NHMRC Early Career Fellowship (Australian Public Health): The role of emerging gastrointestinal viruses in the first two years of life: a birth cohort study (2012–2016)
Acute gastroenteritis (AGE) in children due to infectious agents imposes an enormous global disease burden. Even with routine diagnostic testing, a specific pathogen is often not identified as the cause of many of these infections. This diagnostic gap may close somewhat with recent discoveries of previously unidentified viruses in stool specimens from sick children. Whether these new viruses actually cause illness, or are present in stool incidentally, is yet to be determined.
My proposed research project for this fellowship is a prospective community-based longitudinal birth cohort study of AGE using parent-collected specimens from 143 Brisbane infants. This project will run alongside an already funded NHMRC project with the same structure examining respiratory infections in the same children.
Subjects will be recruited antenatally, from a public and a private hospital over a 2 year period and followed until their second birthday. Parents will keep a daily symptom diary and a collect a stool specimen from a dirty nappy one day after birth and weekly for the life of the study. These specimens will be returned via surface mail to the Queensland Paediatric Infectious Diseases Laboratory where they will be stored and batch tested, using sensitive molecular methods, for 13 previously known and newly discovered AGE viruses. With virus testing results and daily symptom data we will be able to describe virus epidemiology during illness and non-illness periods, and the role these viruses have in causing AGE. A selection of stool samples from children classified with moderate to severe disease, and for whom a known viral agent cannot be identified, will be subjected to further investigations for the presence of an as yet unidentified virus.
The outcomes from this project will substantially improve our understanding of AGE epidemiology in early childhood, and may help close the wide diagnostic gap for childhood AGE through the discovery of new viral pathogens.