An international research team has identified a previously unknown virus that caused two deaths in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2009.
The unusual characteristics of the virus and its deadly consequences still puzzle the team, however, and research continues to better understand how the virus is transmitted and what might stop it.
This much is known: the virus induces acute hemorrhagic fever, a fast-moving viral disease that can kill in days. In the DRC, two teens, a boy and a girl, died. A third person, an adult male, developed the disease but recovered.
Acute hemorrhagic fever causes fever, dizziness, muscle aches and exhaustion. Patients with severe cases of hemorrhagic fever, which can be caused by a number of different pathogens, often show signs of bleeding under the skin, in internal organs or from body orifices such as the mouth, eyes or ears.
The new microbe is named Bas-Congo virus (BASV), after the province in the southwest corner of the DRC where the three people lived.
"Known viruses, such as Ebola, HIV and influenza, represent just the tip of the microbial iceberg," said Joseph Fair, a co-author of the research published in late September in PLoS Pathogens. Fair is vice president of Metabiota, a California-based company specializing in disease and pathogen detection, evaluation and response. "Identifying deadly unknown viruses, such as Bas-Congo virus, gives us a leg up in controlling future outbreaks," he said.
The two cases in 2009 occurred in a 15-year-old boy and, a week later, a 13-year-old girl who attended the same school. Both fell ill suddenly and declined rapidly. A week after the girl's death, a nurse who cared for her developed similar symptoms. He was transferred to a hospital and survived.
"These are the only three cases known to have occurred, although there could be additional outbreaks from this virus in the future," said Dr. Charles Chiu, an assistant professor of laboratory medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who led the effort to identify the virus.
Chiu and his team continue to work on new methods to detect the virus so health officials in the DRC and elsewhere can quickly identify it should it emerge again.