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Viral respiratory tract infections (RTI) are relatively understudied in Southeast Asian tropical countries. In temperate countries, seasonal activity of respiratory viruses has been reported, particularly in association with temperature, while inconsistent correlation of respiratory viral activity with humidity and rain is found in tropical countries. A retrospective study was performed from 1982-2008 to investigate the viral etiology of children (≤ 5 years old) admitted with RTI in a tertiary hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
A total of 10269 respiratory samples from all children ≤ 5 years old received at the hospital's diagnostic virology laboratory between 1982-2008 were included in the study. Immunofluorescence staining (for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza A and B, parainfluenza types 1-3, and adenovirus) and virus isolation were performed. The yearly hospitalization rates and annual patterns of laboratory-confirmed viral RTIs were determined. Univariate ANOVA was used to analyse the demographic parameters of cases. Multiple regression and Spearman's rank correlation were used to analyse the correlation between RSV cases and meteorological parameters.
A total of 2708 cases were laboratory-confirmed using immunofluorescence assays and viral cultures, with the most commonly detected being RSV (1913, 70.6%), parainfluenza viruses (357, 13.2%), influenza viruses (297, 11.0%), and adenovirus (141, 5.2%). Children infected with RSV were significantly younger, and children infected with influenza viruses were significantly older. The four main viruses caused disease throughout the year, with a seasonal peak observed for RSV in September-December. Monthly RSV cases were directly correlated with rain days, and inversely correlated with relative humidity and temperature.
Viral RTIs, particularly due to RSV, are commonly detected in respiratory samples from hospitalized children in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As in temperate countries, RSV infection in tropical Malaysia also caused seasonal yearly epidemics, and this has implications for prophylaxis and vaccination programmes.