Researchers have found that a mortal virus that has been detected in Bolivia can spread from person to person in environments medical attention, raising potential concerns of additional outbreaks in the future.
The new findings presented Monday at the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) meeting also provide preliminary evidence regarding the species of rodent that carries the virus and you can transmit it to people or other animals that can infect humans.
Researchers from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have presented new clues about the many mysteries surrounding the Chapare virus, which caused at least five infections near Bolivia’s capital La Paz in 2019, three of them fatal.
Before that, the only record of the disease was a small group and a single confirmed case in 2004 in the Chapare province of Bolivia. The recent outbreak surprised the health authorities, since initially they only knew that it was a hemorrhagic fever which produced symptoms similar to diseases such as Ebola. It prompted a rapid mobilization of infectious disease experts from the Bolivian Ministry of Health, the CDC, and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to explore the origins of the disease.
“Our work confirmed that a young resident physician, an ambulance physician, and a gastroenterologist contracted the virus after encountering infected patients, and two of these health workers later died,” says Caitlin Cossaboom, an epidemiologist with the Division of Pathogens and Pathology. CDC High Consequences – We now believe that many bodily fluids can potentially carry the virus. “
Cossaboom explains that the confirmation of the person-to-person transmission shows that the healthcare providers and any other person dealing with suspected cases should take great care to avoid contact with items that may be contaminated with blood, urine, saliva or semen.
Chapare belongs to a group of viruses called arenavirus. Among them are dangerous pathogens such as the Lassa virus, which causes thousands of deaths a year in West Africa, and the Machupo virus, which has caused deadly outbreaks in Bolivia.
Like these pathogens, the Chapare virus can cause hemorrhagic strains, a condition that is also seen in Ebola patients and can cause serious problems in various organs, causing patients to struggle to survive.
Cossaboom notes that patients of the 2019 Chapare outbreak suffered from fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, bleeding gums, a skin rash, and pain behind the eyes. There is no specific treatment, so patients are treated primarily with intravenous fluids and other supportive care.
There is still much that is unknown about the Chapare virus, mainly where it originated, how it infects humans, and the likelihood of larger outbreaks in Bolivia and elsewhere in South America.
Cossaboom now presents new evidence of Chapare viral RNA detected in rodents collected from an area around the home and nearby farmland of the first patient identified in the 2019 outbreak: a farm worker who also died. He cautions that the evidence falls short of proving that rodents were the source of their infection (viral RNA is not proof that rodents were infectious), although it offers an important clue.
Rodent species that tested positive for viral RNA are found in Bolivia and several neighboring countries. Rodents are a key source or reservoir of similar viruses, including the Lassa virus.
Scientists believe that the Chapare virus could have been circulating in Bolivia for several years, but infected patients may have been misdiagnosed with dengue, a disease that is common in the region and can produce similar symptoms.