June 4, 2009

New arenavirus found in S. Africa, Zambia

U.S. medical scientists have determined a new arenavirus is the cause of a hemorrhagic fever outbreak in South Africa and Zambia.

Scientists from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases, the U.S. National Health Laboratory Service, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Roche's 454 Life Sciences Corp. discovered the new virus that was responsible for the late 2008 hemorrhagic fever outbreak.

Researchers said it's the first new hemorrhagic fever-associated arenavirus from Africa that's been identified in nearly four decades.

The previously unknown arenavirus was identified using genetic extracts of blood and liver from victims. That identification is expected to enable development of specific tests to diagnose infection, determine the origin of the virus and develop drugs and vaccines to treat and prevent the disease.

Within 72 hours we identified the novel virus using high-throughput sequencing, Columbia Associate Professor Thomas Briese, said. It is reassuring that we now have the tools needed to rapidly detect and respond to the challenges of unknown pathogens.

A detailed genetic analysis of the arenavirus, named the Lujo virus, appears in the online edition of the journal PLoS Pathogens.