The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston houses many infectious viruses and potential weapons of biological mass destruction – and one of them is unaccounted for.
The big news on campus occurred on Saturday, March 23, 2013, when University President Callender issued a message to employees at UTMB saying that one of the vials of an infectious virus has been lost. The missing vial from the Galveston National Laboratory contains less than a teaspoon of the virus called Guanarito.
The Guanarito Virus
‘Guanarito’ is an infectious virus native to the country of Venezuela, which can cause hemorrhagic fever. Although it can be deadly, doctors don’t think it transmits from person to person.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Guanarito virus is part of the Arenaviridae family. The Arenaviridae family of five viruses is mainly associated with rodent-transmitted diseases in humans. Humans can become infected with these viruses via contact with the rodents, or materials that are contaminated with excretions from an infected rodent. We can also become infected through contaminated food or if we have a cut, the virus can enter through the broken skin.
Venezuelan Hemorrhagic Fever
Hemorrhagic fever is a term doctors use to describe a ‘severe multisystem syndrome.’ Multiple viruses cause hemorrhagic fever, so the symptoms can vary depending on which virus caused the illness. Regardless of the virus, however, the first symptoms to appear include fever, fatigue, dizziness, muscle aches, loss of strength, and exhaustion.
A more serious case can result in bleeding under the skin, bleeding in the internal organs, or bleeding from eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, although patients rarely die from the bleeding. Patients that have a severe case may have shock, coma, delirium, and seizures.
Most patients recover within a week or two with supportive treatments; however, if left untreated, then the fatality rate can be about 30 percent or higher.