Genetic risk factor for common childhood respiratory infection identified

November 19, 2000

Association of respiratory syncytial virus bronchiolitis with the interleukin 8 gene region in UK families

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The severity of the common childhood infection, bronchiolitis, may be genetically determined, shows research in Thorax.

Bronchiolitis is a respiratory infection which affects nearly all children by their second year. Occurring in winter epidemics, in most cases it is caused by respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. Its primary symptom is breathlessness and it has been linked with a tendency to further wheezing episodes. Bronchiolitis is one of the most common reasons for hospital admission in very young children.

DNA was swabbed from the mouths of 117 families whose children had been admitted to hospital with severe bronchiolitis caused by RSV between 1992 and 1999. This was done to look for variants of the IL-8 gene. IL-8 is a powerful chemical that is involved in inflammatory processes in the body; previous research has shown that airways infected with RSV contain high levels of IL-8.

When the researchers analysed the cord blood from 180 normal babies born in the Oxford region, to test for the frequency of the genetic variant, they worked out that it is carried by more than half of the UK population.

By comparing the frequency of the IL-8 variant in babies affected by bronchiolitis to the frequency found in their parents and in the cord blood samples, the researchers estimate that carriers of the variant have about twice the risk of developing the disease.

Dr Jeremy Hull, University Department of Paediatrics, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford

BMJ Specialty Journals

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