Strains of respiratory syncytial virus from 3 major areas of Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) were analyzed for variations in their antigenic and biological properties and in the molecular weights of their major structural proteins. Seventy-eight strains from infants and young children with LRI were collected from 1981-1984.
The RSV season in the Australian cities lasted from April through September, with major peaks in July of each year, while the RSV season in tropical PNG was year-round, with small peaks in March and October of each year coinciding with excessive rainfall.
Fifty-six strains were analyzed in detail; 40 were typed by time-resolved fluoroimmunoassay with monoclonal antibodies as group A strains and 16 were group B; both groups were concurrent. Three children of one family had sequential RSV infections 13 months apart, and the etiologic group A strain was identical both years in terms of growth and antigenic properties with strain-specific ferret antisera; the second infection was milder in all three children. On average, the group A strains replicated considerably better than group B strains in HEp2 cells, producing 53% more syncytia and 99% higher infectious virus titers in 31% less time in culture. Ten group A and B reference strains exhibited the same growth patterns as the A and B regional strains, respectively. Differences in antigenicity as measured with hyperimmune antisera to prototype Long strain were even greater. Group A strains exhibited a mean 68% greater IFA staining than B strains, a 71% greater EIA reaction, and were neutralized to 69% higher serum titers than B strains. Again, the reference A and B strains included as controls gave patterns identical to those of the regional strains.
Finally, the P phosphoprotein had consistently higher molecular weight in A strains (mean 35,900) than B strains (mean 33,100). Small variations in the sizes of the F and G glycoproteins were not sufficient to suggest grouping on this basis.