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Study To Look At Viruses Affecting Western PA Kids And How To Stop Them


In developing nations, acute intestinal diseases and respiratory infections are deadly.

In the United States, the same viruses are the most likely culprit when children are hospitalized.

“So this is a huge burden on society both for the children and for the families involved," said John Williams, chief of pediatric infectious diseases for Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. "(Especially) economically in terms of money spent caring for these illnesses, and time lost from work for parents, etcetera.” 

In the next two months, Children’s will start collecting oral swabs and stool samples from children with the viruses in order to better understand them and vaccines that could prevent them.

The five-year, $5 million study will help to determine what viruses are making kids in western Pennsylvania sick and what viruses cause disease that don’t yet have a vaccine.

The data will be analyzed at Children’s, but the hospital is one of seven academic medical centers in the country that will work together to evaluate the effectiveness of vaccines as part of a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

He said the study isn’t focused on building a case against those who are anti-vaccination, but rather to discover the next target for a possible vaccine. People tend to forget that historically deadly juvenile diseases still exist.

“Do you remember when your brother had measles? No, you don’t. Because we have a vaccine. We used to have 20,000 kids a year die from measles [and other infectious diseases] but we don’t now because of vaccines,” he said.

He said children die every year at Children’s Hospital from vaccine-preventable diseases like meningitis and influenza. Together, acute gastroenteritis and respiratory infections remain the most common causes of disease in children worldwide, he said.

But doctors know a lot about them and various vaccines and treatments. The next leading cause, human metapneumovirus, was only discovered 15 years ago.

“There will be other germs we discover in this study that cause respiratory and intestinal illness that will need vaccinations,” he said. 

Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she worked for the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.