Friday, September 28, 2012

Disease Detectives Catch Deadly African Virus Just As It Emerges, Democratic Republic of the Congo

New viruses are popping up all over these days – Heartland virus in Missouri last month, a new virus in the same family as SARS in Saudi Arabia this month. And now, a never-before-seen hemorrhagic fever virus in central Africa.

It's called Bas-Congo virus after the province where it was found just west of Kinshasa, the teeming capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The discovery was announced today in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

So far only three people in the remote village of Mangala are known to have contracted Bas-Congo hemorrhagic fever, two of whom died. One was a health care worker who cared for the other two villagers, which means it can apparently be transmitted from person to person, although no one knows how easily.

But the small number of known cases is actually one of the important things about this finding.

It signifies that scientists may have found an emerging disease very soon after it made its jump from whatever species it came from into humans. We'll come back to its most likely origins a little later.

The reason for thinking Bas-Congo only recently began infecting humans is that researchers have run blood tests on people throughout the DRC and found no evidence of antibodies that would indicate any of them has been exposed to the new virus. Read More