Mysterious SA virus a new strain, says expert

Genetic testing indicates that the mysterious haemorrhagic disease that killed three people in the country is a new type of arenavirus, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) reported on Monday.

”We don’t know why it is so pathogenic. It is a new virus, not like Lassa,” Dr Ian Lipkin of Columbia University in New York told a news conference at a meeting of infectious disease experts.

Arenavirus is a large family of viruses that include the germs that cause Lassa fever and the mouse-borne lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus.

The virus causes haemorrhagic disease, meaning it can cause internal and external bleeding.

The first victim was a woman from Zambia flown to South Africa for treatment. A paramedic who accompanied her and a nurse from the clinic where she was taken also died.

Samples from the patients were sent to the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and to Lipkin’s lab in New York, where genetic tests are used to find new microbes, the broadcaster said.

Lipkin said the standard way to identify viruses was by growing them in a lab dish, but this method misses many viruses and some simply cannot be cultured.

The virus is not related to certain other viruses that can cause haemorrhagic disease, such as Ebola or Dengue.

The national Health Department was currently monitoring some people who may have come into contact with the deceased.

Lipkin said the common antiviral drug ribavirin appears to help treat the disease. — Sapa

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