New Research Released on Common Childhood Virus

Human Herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6), a common infection seen in children under the age of two, is usually symptomatic, often results in medical evaluation and appears to be contracted from older siblings, according to a new study from Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle and published in the February 24 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.


Human Herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6), a common infection seen in children under the age of two, is usually symptomatic, often results in medical evaluation and appears to be contracted from older siblings, according to a new study from Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle and published in the February 24 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.

HHV -6 was discovered in 1986 and is believed to be the cause of most cases of roseola since the early 1900s. An ever-present virus that establishes a dormant, lifelong infection in the host, HHV -6 is thought to be present in more than 95 percent of the human population and most commonly infects infants and young children.

Most cases of HHV -6 are benign and require only supportive therapy. The most common symptoms associated with infection were fever and fussiness. HHV -6 can be particularly dangerous for immuno-compromised people often resulting in encephalitis, rash, fever, and even death.

Prior to this study, little was known about the acquisition, virological course and clinical manifestations of the infection.

Researchers at Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington School of Medicine studied 277 children from birth through the first two years of life to define the pattern of acquisition of HHV -6. Each child’s saliva was tested weekly for HHV -6 and parents maintained a daily log of signs and symptoms of illness in their children.

Approximately 77 percent of study participants acquired HHV -6 in the first 24 months with the peak age of acquisition between 9 and 21 months of age. Among the children who acquired the virus 93 percent had symptoms and 39 percent were seen by a physician.

“Many in the medical community theorized that most children with HHV -6 did not end up in a physician’s office or emergency room and would run the course of the virus at home. So it was surprising when our study showed 39 percent of children with the virus did seek medical attention,” said Danielle Zerr, MD, MPH, medical director of infection control at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, assistant professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and lead author of the study. “This implies that the virus has a more significant impact on our healthcare systems than originally thought.”

Another interesting finding of the study was that older siblings appeared to serve as a source of transmission for the virus and the virus continued to be present in saliva for up to 12 months after infection.

To receive the full text of the study or to schedule an interview with Dr. Zerr please call Jennifer Seymour, Media Relations Manager, Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, at (206) 987-5207 or e-mail her.

About Seattle Children’s

Seattle Children’s Hospital, Foundation and Research Institute together deliver superior patient care, advance new discoveries and treatments through pediatric research, and raise funds to create better futures for patients. Consistently ranked as one of the top 10 children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s Hospital specializes in meeting the unique physical, emotional and developmental needs of children from infancy through young adulthood. Through the collaboration of physicians in nearly 60 pediatric subspecialties, Seattle Children’s Hospital provides inpatient, outpatient, diagnostic, surgical, rehabilitative, behavioral, and emergency and outreach services to families from around the world.

Located in downtown Seattle’s biotech corridor, Seattle Children’s Research Institute is pushing the boundaries of medical research to find cures for pediatric diseases and improve outcomes for children all over the world. Internationally recognized investigators and staff at the research institute are advancing new discoveries in cancer, genetics, immunology, pathology, infectious disease, injury prevention, bioethics and much more.

Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Foundation and Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association work together to gather community support and raise funds for uncompensated care, clinical care and research. The foundation receives nearly 80,000 gifts each year, from lemonade stand proceeds to corporate sponsorships. Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association is the largest all-volunteer fundraising network for any hospital in the country, serving as the umbrella organization for 450 groups of people who turn an activity they love into a fundraiser. Support from the foundation and guild association makes it possible for Seattle Children’s care and research teams to improve the health and well-being of all kids.

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