Sunday, October 31, 2010

Virus Discovered as a Causative Agent in a Disease Prevalent in Central China

There have been many reported cases of a deadly fever outbreak in Central China. Numerous instances have been reported for the last three summers. The inexplicable illness is characterized by high fever and gastrointestinal distress (GI). Many of the individuals impacted by this illness bled severely, and, most alarmingly, as many as 30% of the victims have died. At first, scientists at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) postulated that the disease was a form of human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA) a bacterial infection spread through tick bites.

Xue-jue Yu, a visiting scientist studying this illness at the Chinese CDC’s National Institute of Communicable Disease Control and Prevention (NICDC), was skeptical of this explanation. According to him, the mortality was too high, and, more conclusively, examination of blood samples did not reveal the presence of Anaplasma phagocytophilum - the bacterial agent that is responsible for HGA. Pursuing this problem, his team finally discovered a new type of bunyavirus as the culprit. Members of this family of viruses include the hantavirus and the Rift Valley fever virus. Hantavirus is responsible for a serious illness referred to as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPC) spread by infected rats to humans. Yu’s results were subsequently reported in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

This is a rather disturbing finding and may point to the emergence of a new virus with a potentially deadly outcome for those infected. It is certainly worth increased attention on the part of public health professionals throughout the world.

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