Researchers have identified a lethal new virus in Africa that causes bleeding like the dreaded Ebola virus. The so-called “Lujo” virus infected five people in Zambia and South Africa last fall. Four of them died, but a fifth survived. It’s not clear how the first person became infected, but the bug comes from a family of viruses found in rodents. The outbreak started in September, when a female travel agent who lived on the outskirts of Lusaka, Zambia, became ill with a fever-like illness that quickly grew much worse. She was airlifted to Johannesburg, South Africa, where she died. A paramedic in Lusaka who treated her also became sick, was transported to Johannesburg and died. The three others infected were health care workers in Johannesburg. Researchers believe the virus spread from person to person through contact with infected body fluids. The drug ribavirin was given to the fifth Lujo virus patient, a Johannesburg nurse. It’s not clear if the medicine made a difference or if she just had a milder case of the disease, but she fully recovered.
Briese T, Paweska JT, McMullan LK, Hutchison SK, Street C, et al. (2009) Genetic Detection and Characterization of Lujo Virus, a New Hemorrhagic Fever–Associated Arenavirus from Southern Africa. PLoS Pathog 4(5): e1000455. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1000455
Lujo virus (LUJV), a new member of the family Arenaviridae and the first hemorrhagic fever–associated arenavirus from the Old World discovered in three decades, was isolated in South Africa during an outbreak of human disease characterized by nosocomial transmission and an unprecedented high case fatality rate of 80% (4/5 cases). Unbiased pyrosequencing of RNA extracts from serum and tissues of outbreak victims enabled identification and detailed phylogenetic characterization within 72 hours of sample receipt. Full genome analyses of LUJV showed it to be unique and branching off the ancestral node of the Old World arenaviruses. The virus G1 glycoprotein sequence was highly diverse and almost equidistant from that of other Old World and New World arenaviruses, consistent with a potential distinctive receptor tropism. LUJV is a novel, genetically distinct, highly pathogenic arenavirus.