Background: Infections caused by human rhinoviruses (HRVs) are important triggers of wheezing in young children. Wheezy illness has increasingly been recognised as an important cause of morbidity in African children, but there is little information on the contribution of HRV to this. The aim of this study was to determine the role of HRV as a cause of acute wheezing in South African children.
Methods: Two hundred and twenty children presenting consecutively at a tertiary children's hospital with a wheezing illness from May 2004 to November 2005 were prospectively enrolled. A nasal swab was taken and reverse transcription PCR used to screen the samples for HRV. The presence of human metapneumovirus, human bocavirus and human coronavirus-NL63 was assessed in all samples using PCR-based assays. A general shell vial culture using a pool of monoclonal antibodies was used to detect other common respiratory viruses on 26% of samples. Phylogenetic analysis to determine circulating HRV species was performed on a portion of HRV-positive samples. Categorical characteristics were analysed using Fisher's Exact test.
Results: HRV was detected in 128 (58.2%) of children, most (72%) of whom were under 2 years of age. Presenting symptoms between the HRV-positive and negative groups were similar. Most illness was managed with ambulatory therapy, but 45 (35%) were hospitalized for treatment and 3 (2%) were admitted to intensive care. There were no in-hospital deaths. All 3 species of HRV were detected with HRV-C being the most common (52%) followed by HRV-A (37%) and HRV-B (11%). Infection with other respiratory viruses occurred in 20/128 (16%) of HRV-positive children and in 26/92 (28%) of HRV-negative samples.
Conclusion: HRV may be the commonest viral infection in young South African children with acute wheezing. Infection is associated with mild or moderate clinical disease.