Respiratory syncytial virus: An unwavering battle against the predictable but dangerous virus

Miss Hlengiwe Sondlane an M.Med.Sc student affiliated with the UFS-NGS Unit is undertaking a novel project on the genomics of human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which has emerged as the second most common cause of infant mortality,globally. In her designated research project, she has achieved sequencing of the complete genome of RSV through the guidance of her supervisor Prof. Martin Nyaga and co-supervisors Prof. Dominique Goedhals and Mr. Phillip Bester. The study aims to bridge the knowledge gap that exists in RSV genomics, especially in South Africa and regionally (Africa), where there is a huge scarcity of whole genome sequencing data. Characterizing the circulating RSV strains in South Africa more importantly during the COVID-19 era would essentially enhance our understanding of the phylogenetic dynamics and epidemiology of this virus both in a local, regional and global context. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has ignited an interest in studying this virus and developing effective therapeutics that will be beneficial in infants which are the most vulnerable group.This arises due to the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 non pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) that have resulted to a resurgence of RSV infections in young infants with increased hospitalization. Besides being a student, Miss Sondlane is a research assistant at the UFS-NGS Unit. She partakes in laboratory work on environmental sample-based 16S/ITS metagenomic sequencing of bacteria and fungi and also involved in whole genome sequencing of rotaviruses and other pathogens.