New human-to-human virus identified in Bolivia

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Researchers with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed the human-to-human transmission of a rare virus in Bolivia belonging to a family of viruses that can cause haemorrhagic fevers, such as Ebola.

It is understood that the Chapare virus – so called for the region where it was first identified more than a decade ago – was transmitted to health workers in La Paz and resulted in three deaths.

The news is a reminder that there will constantly be new viral threats to humankind, even as countries around the world battle a new wave of Covid-19 outbreaks.

Scientists explained that last year, two patients transmitted the virus to three healthcare workers in Bolivia’s La Paz. One of the patients and two medical workers later died. Only one small outbreak of the virus has been previously documented, in the Chapare region 370 miles east of La Paz in 2004.

“Our work confirmed that a young medical resident, an ambulance medic and a gastroenterologist all contracted the virus after encounters with infected patients,” said Caitlin Cossaboom, an epidemiologist with the CDC’s division of high-consequence pathogens and pathology. Two of the healthcare workers later died. “We now believe many bodily fluids can potentially carry the virus.”

Researchers said that the virus is likely to be carried by rats, which in turn may have passed it to humans. In general, viruses spread through bodily fluids are easier to contain than respiratory viruses such as Covid-19.

Cossaboom said that the symptoms of this virus included fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, bleeding gums, skin rash and pain behind the eyes. Because there are no specific drugs for the disease, patients receive only supportive care such as intravenous fluids.

“We isolated the virus, and we were expecting to find a more common disease, but the sequence data pointed to Chapare virus,” said Maria Morales-Betoulle, a pathologist at the CDC. “We were really surprised.”

The findings were presented on Monday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH). They are viewed as important because human-to-human transmission could point to the potential for future outbreaks.

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