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Keywords:

  • Merkel cell polyomavirus;
  • respiratory infection;
  • PCR;
  • co-infection;
  • immunocompromised

Abstract

Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) was identified originally in association with a rare but aggressive skin cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma. The virus has since been found in the respiratory tract of some patients with respiratory disease. However, the role of MCPyV in the causation of respiratory disease has not been established. To determine the prevalence of MCPyV in 305 respiratory samples from immunocompetent and immunocompromised patients and evaluate their contribution to respiratory diseases, specimens were screened for MCPyV using single, multiplex, or real-time PCR; co-infection with other viruses was examined. Of the 305 samples tested, 10 (3.27%) were positive for MCPyV. The virus was found in two groups of patients: in 6 (2%) nasopharyngeal aspirate samples from children aged 26 days to 7 months who were immunocompetent; and in 4 (1.3%) of nasopharyngeal aspirate samples taken from patients aged 41 to 69 years who were severely immunosuppressed from leukemia or transplant therapy. Both groups had upper or lower respiratory tract infection. Co-infections with other viruses were found in 30% of the MCPyV positive samples. The data present a pattern of infection similar to that seen with the polyomaviruses JC and BK in which the virus is acquired during childhood, probably by the respiratory route. The viruses then establish latency and become reactivated in the event of immunosuppression. J. Med. Virol. 83:2220–2224, 2011. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.