A nasty virus which mainly affects babies and can cause more severe, potentially fatal diseases has been confirmed for the first time in New Zealand.
A team from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), dubbed the "virus hunters", detected human parechovirus 3 (HPeV3) from a faecal sample taken from 2-year-old who became sick during a gastro outbreak at a childcare facility in 2012.
The findings, made as part of a Health Research Council-funded study delving into unsolved outbreaks of human gastroenteritis, have been published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.
HPeV3 was first discovered in Japan in 2004. Last year it caused a significant outbreak of sepsis, or infection of the blood, in babies in Australia.
Dr Richard Hall, who confirmed the virus, said HPeV3 mainly infected babies and young children and often caused no symptoms.
However, it was also known to cause more severe diseases which could be fatal, including blood infections in newborn babies, acute inflammation of the brain, and even paralysis.
It was not clear if HPeV3 was the cause of the 2012 outbreak, but the Ministry of Health and the medical officer of health from the district health board where the patient resided were notified about the finding.
"The HPeV3 virus survives in the body for only a short time, maybe a few weeks, and is thought to be spread through the faecal-oral route," Dr Hall said.
"It can affect different tissue types in the body, such as the membranes surrounding the brain, but there's still a lot that we don't know about it."
The ESR team wanted to make clinicians and public health authorities aware of the presence of HPeV3 due to the serious illnesses associated with its infection.
"We suggest they consider testing for HPeV3 as is carried out in the US, Japan, and Europe, and more recently in Australia, especially for rare cases of severe disease that can't be explained," Dr Hall said.
The development of any future diagnostic tests would be put together by ESR, the Ministry of Health, and DHB labs.