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New Arenavirus Is Cause of Fatal Fever Outbreak in Africa

Using unbiased high-throughput pyrosequencing, scientists have identified a new arenavirus as the cause of a highly fatal hemorrhagic fever outbreak in Zambia and South Africa in late 2008. At that time, five cases of undiagnosed hemorrhagic fever were recognized in South Africa after air transfer of a critically ill individual from Zambia. The disease was fatal in four of the five cases, including the originally infected individual, the paramedic who attended the patient during air transfer, the nurse who attended the patient in the intensive care unit, and a member of the hospital staff who cleaned the room after the death of the patient. The fifth case, a nurse who attended the paramedic one day before barrier nursing procedures were implemented, received anti-viral treatment (ribavirin) and recovered. The new virus, called Lujo virus after the sites of the outbreaks (Lusaka, Zambia, and Johannesburg, South Africa) is the first new hemorrhagic fever-associated arenavirus from Africa identified in nearly four decades. The virus is distantly related to the Lassa virus, also an arenavirus. The Lujo virus was identified with 72 hours of the receipt of specimens. According to the authors, their findings will enable the development of specific reagents to further investigate the reservoir, geographic distribution, and unusual pathogenicity of the Lujo virus. In addition, their results confirm the utility of unbiased high-throughput pyrosequencing for pathogen discovery and public health. The report of this work was published on May 29 in PLoS Pathology. [Press release] [PLoS Pathology article]