African outbreak

日期:2019-03-08 06:03:10 作者:仉企磋 阅读:

By Debora MacKenzie A MYSTERIOUS epidemic in a remote region of Central Africa appears to be an outbreak of the Marburg virus, cousin to the notorious Ebola. Scientists are now converging on the area in the hope of discovering the source of these rare but horrific haemorrhagic fevers. Miners working near Durba in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been suffering from symptoms including fever, pain, rash and bleeding since December. So far at least 72 have become ill and 52 have died. News of the epidemic only spread after a local doctor developed the symptoms and sought treatment in a nearby town. The authorities feared this was another outbreak of Ebola, which killed 350 people near the Congolese town of Kikwit in 1995 (This Week, 20 May 1995, p 4). But now South Africa’s National Institute for Virology (NIV) near Johannesburg has tested samples from 25 people who were ill or had been in contact with cases. Two of the sick people tested positive for the Marburg virus. “We suspect the remaining cases will be Marburg as well,” says Marc Biot of Médecins Sans Frontières Belgium, “If they are, it will be the first natural outbreak of the virus ever observed.” The virus was identified in 1967 when 31 people became ill and seven died after handling green monkeys at laboratories in Belgrade and in Marburg, West Germany. Until now, only three other people, all of whom had travelled in Africa, are known to have acquired the Marburg virus. The travellers and now the miners who have developed the disease all spent time in caves. “This makes bats the leading contender for an animal reservoir of the virus,” says Alan Schmaljohn of the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Monkeys die from the virus too quickly to allow them to be reservoirs, he says. Attempts to isolate viruses from animals near outbreaks have failed, however, possibly because investigations began too late. Now teams from South Africa’s NIV, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and the WHO are going to Durba. “This may be the best opportunity we have had to search for the animal source of the virus,” says Schmaljohn. “Once we know that, we will know how to avoid it, or at least whom to vaccinate.” Last year, he and his colleagues published details of an experimental vaccine that they hope could protect those at risk ( Virology, vol 251,