The Chapare-Virus Presumably occurs in rodents and was first discovered in humans in Bolivia in 2004 – in only one case. Last year, the Ebola virus-like pathogen came back – and was transmitted from person to person for the first time, with fatal consequences. But the problem is much bigger – we are currently seeing it in the corona pandemic: More and more viruses are spreading from animals to humans and change in such a way that they can become dangerous.
Chapare virus: Another animal virus that makes people sick
At that time, researchers were able to detect the Chapare virus in the blood of a dead person. An isolated case. Now it’s back and has infected clinic staff: In 2019, the virus was found in humans again – and could be transmitted to other people during treatment. Three medical professionals were apparently infected while treating two patients. Two of them died. Researchers from the US Disease Control Agency (CDC) discovered this after examining five cases of an unknown disease in Bolivia.
Chapare virus is similar to Ebola virus and can cause a severe hemorrhagic fever. The symptoms are fever, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, profuse bleeding gums, rash, and pain behind the eyes. According to the researchers, it is transmitted through body fluids. All three medical workers had come into contact with the patient’s body fluids, such as feces or vomit.
No outbreak recorded – but cause for concern
After these cases, there was no more outbreak of the disease in the area around these five cases, and nothing is known in 2020 either. In addition, diseases such as Ebola or the Chapare virus, which cause hemorrhagic fever, do not spread as quickly as respiratory diseases such as the flu or Covid-19, explains Colin Carlson from Georgetown University in the USA to Live Science. This is due in particular to the fact that the symptoms of these diseases typically appear a very short time after infection – compared to the incubation period that often takes days for respiratory diseases – and so the sick can be better isolated.
The biggest problem with haemorrhagic fevers, however, is that medical personnel in particular can become infected and entire health systems can collapse.
But there is a completely different problem that this new virus shows once again and of which we should be aware not only in view of Sars-CoV-2: the increasing risk of zoonoses.
Zoonoses: Viruses that jump from animals to humans
The biggest problem is the viruses themselves, which can jump from animals to humans – so-called zoonoses – and then develop in such a way that they are passed on from person to person. Because viruses need a host in order to be able to multiply. Viruses cannot exist on their own. If their host dies, they also disappear. Hence, they need ways to spread further. The perfect host is one in which they can exist and infect as many other living things as possible with them before dying. In addition, there are random mutations. They can be harmless, but they can also make the virus more contagious or less contagious. Likewise, they can make it more deadly or less deadly.
Here, however, every type of virus works differently: While HI viruses are constantly changing, so that the search for a vaccine is virtually impossible, influenza viruses change so frequently that we need to refresh our vaccination protection every year and there are serious cases of flu every year. Coronaviruses don’t change quite as often. And the measles virus remains so stable that vaccination protection lasts for almost life.
More on this: Immune after coronavirus infection? And if so, how long?
The chapare virus has not been shown to have passed from rodents to humans, but the patients had potential contact with rodent urine or faeces due to their farmer origin. In addition, the virus belongs to the group of arena viruses, which typically circulate in rodents and can spread to humans. Lassa fever or hantavirus, for example, also count here. There was one case recently in Germany: A woman from Lower Saxony, infected by a rat, fell ill with the Seoul virus, a type of hantavirus. In the meantime she was in the intensive care unit.
We live with more and more new viruses
“New viruses, including deadly ones, are a fact of life in the 21st century.” This is what Life Science puts it in its report, supported by statements from Carlson. He notes that the rate of new viruses has risen significantly over the past decade or two. Around two newly recognized viruses a year are normal – viruses that have never been seen before. There are now more, often by jumping from animals to humans. To name an exact number is difficult.
That doesn’t always mean a danger. Even if a virus skips, it does not automatically mean that it can then be transmitted from person to person: “Most viruses that jump from wild animals to humans are poorly adapted,” says Carlson. Accordingly, they would rarely be “lucky” to be able to spread further on the first attempt.
But viruses that circulate in animals that live close to humans are much more likely to find the opportunity to develop in one of the many jumps in such a way that they can ultimately be transmitted from person to person. Farm animals or rodents are mentioned, but also animals on wild animal markets like in China.
Carlson explains that this jump could theoretically occur anywhere. When it comes to hemorrhagic fevers, but also viruses such as Sars-Cov-2 and Sars, the public often thinks directly of Africa or Asia. But, according to Carlson, the Chapare virus shows that it can happen anywhere.
Existing pandemics make people more susceptible to other viruses
The world is getting better at discovering viruses like this, says Carlson. That is the good news. But globalization and especially the closer movement of animals and people, for example by destroying the natural habitat of animals – keyword slash and burn as one example of many – make viruses much easier to jump from animals to people. More on this: Not just Corona: How environmental degradation affects epidemics
And Carlson points out: the harmful effects of a pandemic like that Corona-Pandemie has on health systems and the health of the world’s population, making humanity even more vulnerable to other viruses. Because what we must not forget: The more the health system has to deal with one disease, the more other things have to wait. And in an alarming number of cases, Covid 19 patients are far from healthy once they have survived the infection. The effects of the so-called “Long-Covid” show up gradually in exhaustion, breathing problems and more. These are all problems that make people “pre-ill” and make them more vulnerable.
In front Diseases like the hantavirus or chapare you can protect yourself by preventing contact with wild rodents as much as possible. This also includes closing possible holes in and on the house so that the animals cannot even penetrate our most intimate living space.
Those: Live Science, own research