Unlikely arenavirus killed SA man, says medical body

It is highly unlikely that the death of a South African man in Brazil was caused by a new type of arenavirus, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said on Thursday.

“I think it is extremely unlikely. He has no risk factors,” said NICD doctor Lucille Blumberg.

A test for the new type of arenavirus that killed four people in South Africa earlier this year would be done to assure the public that there was no cause for concern, she added.

“I think when the line is raised and people are so concerned, you need a negative test to arrest the problem.

“You need a negative test to totally exclude it as possibility, to remove it from people’s thoughts. That’s the only reason we’re doing it.”

The results of the test, conducted in the United States, would be available in the “next few days”, said Blumberg.

Foreign news agencies reported on Wednesday that the 53-year-old man fell ill on November 25, two days after arriving in Brazil to attend conferences.

It was reported that the man died after displaying symptoms of fever, vomiting, blood in his urine and rashes. Doctors in Brazil suspected he had contracted an arenavirus.

But Blumberg said: “The term virus is often loosely applied ... he had no risk factors. Also, time-wise, it absolutely does not fit.”

The man went for a shoulder operation at Johannesburg’s Morningside Medi-Clinic in October.

Blumberg said the incubation period for the virus was up to 21 days.

The virus’ first victim was Cecilia van Deventer, 36, who was airlifted from Zambia to the Morningside Medi-Clinic in Sandton on September 12 in a critical condition.

Once in South Africa she was treated for tick bite fever and other potential infections, but died two days later.

On September 27, a Zambian paramedic who accompanied her into the country was admitted into the hospital with similar flu-like symptoms, fever and a skin rash. He died on October 2 at the clinic.

A third victim of the virus was a nurse from Morningside Medi-Clinic who attended to Van Deventer. She became ill with fever 18 days after

A fourth person, a contract cleaner at the hospital, Maria Mokubung, 37, also died of the virus.

The NICD later concluded after a series of tests that the mysterious haemorrhagic disease was a new type of arenavirus, which is yet to be named.

Arenavirus is a highly contagious group of viruses, typically spread to humans from proximity with rodents or through the body fluids of infected people.

A fifth person, another nurse, also contracted the virus, but by that time doctors had already identified it. She responded well to treatment.

She was cleared of the disease mid-November. - Sapa

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