A virus is a tiny germ that can live inside cells called host cells. A viral infection is when a harmful germ multiplies in your body.

Viral infections are very common in infants and children.

Fortunately, most viral illnesses are mild (fever and body aches) and resolve on their own since antibiotics don’t work against viruses. However, some viruses can cause serious health complications such as severe dehydration or potentially fatal pneumonia.

Viruses infect human cells by hijacking their internal machinery to make more virus. Viruses can be highly infectious and can spread by coughing, sneezing or sexual transmission, depending on the type.

Immunisation programs have drastically reduced the number of children with viral infections including rotavirus, human papillomavirus (HPV) and influenza. Antiviral medications are only available for some infections.

However, millions of children globally lack access to vaccination and many viruses still do not have vaccines developed for them. 


Who does it affect?

Who does it affect?

  • In 2020, 23 million children missed out on vaccination globally, mostly due to insufficient access.
  • Influenza typically kills up to 650,000 people worldwide every year.
  • Since the rotavirus vaccine was introduced in Australia, the number of children being admitted to hospital with rotavirus has dropped by more than 70 per cent. Previously at least 10,000 children under five were hospitalised in Australia a year.
  • Globally there are 600,000 new cervical cancer cases a year, with HPV viruses causing most. High rates of vaccination, screening and treatment can prevent 62 million deaths this century.

Our viral infections research

Our viral infections research

Our research teams work on a range of viruses that affect children’s health and cause disease. These include SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), HPV, influenza, rotavirus, congenital cytomegalovirus, HIV, measles, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and bronchiolitis.

We’re developing new vaccines and immunisation programs to help protect children and populations from viral infection.

Our teams work to gain a better understanding of vaccine uptake to boost immunisation programs and develop guidelines to aid vaccination.

The contribution of bacterial-viral co-infections to disease onset and severity is attracting interest. We found that during co-infection with pneumococcus bacteria and influenza virus, pneumococcus sometimes works against the virus. We’re working on isolating this anti-viral effect and hope to develop a vaccine that protects against pneumococcus and viral infections. We’re investigating RSV-pneumococcal co-infection including the role of vitamin D, and examining the effects of viruses on the growth and transmission of Streptococcus A bacterium.

Our many COVID-19 trials include investigating if the BCG tuberculosis vaccine protects against severe COVID-19.

Congenital cytomegalovirus can cause hearing and vision loss and cerebral palsy. Our research on how common it is should determine whether universal newborn screening is warranted and support the development of a test for antiviral treatment.

Other studies are investigating if vitamin D supplements reduce bronchiolitis risk if measles (MMR) vaccine can prevent RSV, if a medication prevents serious RSV respiratory illness in premature babies, and optimising management of infants with bronchiolitis and children with HIV.

Our vision

Our vision

Our goal is to reduce deaths and disease from viral infections. We aim to do that by helping create vaccines against more viruses, improving existing vaccines and extending access. Apart from prevention, we seek better treatment to improve health outcomes.