Zambia fever, again

It looks as though this is petering out – in its Johannesburg incarnation, anyway.  From Health24 30th October 2008:

The virus that killed four people and infected another appears to have been contained.

The virus, identified as a member of the arenavirus family, which also includes the germ [sic] that causes Lassa fever. “There are currently no additional suspected cases,” the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a posting dated October 26, based on information received last week. “The outbreak appears to be contained and has been confined to individuals with very close contact in a health-care setting.” ….

The patients first experienced flu-like symptoms, but the illness worsened over the course of a week with diarrh[o]ea, a sore throat and a rash on the face and throat. Bleeding was not a prominent feature among the fatal cases, all of which lasted about nine to 12 days and ended in rapid deterioration with troubled breathing and circulatory failure, the report said.

Reuters Health, October 2008

OK, so the outbreak appears to be winding down: no new cases, old cases resolved – and no clue yet as to where the virus came from, or what the reservoir is.

Another news item from the same source:

Genetic testing indicate that the mysterious haemorrhagic disease which killed three people in the country is a new type of arenavirus, the SABC reported on Monday.

“We don’t know why it is so pathogenic. It is a new virus, not like Lassa,” Dr Ian Lipkin of Columbia University in New York Lipkin told a news conference at a meeting of infectious disease experts.

And then this, on 31st October 2008, also from Health24:

Arenavirus identified: authorities
Last updated: Thursday, October 30, 2008

“A new type of arenavirus has been identified as the cause of the deaths of four people since September, specialists at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg said on Thursday.

“There is no doubt we are dealing with a newly emerged virus,” said Janusz Paweska, head of the special pathology unit at the NICD. The virus belongs to the “old world” arenavirus, but until two weeks ago, they did not know they were dealing with a new virus.
Virus still to be named
The NICD worked with a network of specialists globally, and the virus was identified by themselves and a laboratory in Atlanta in the USA. At a press conference in Johannesburg, they said a name was still being chosen for the virus.

Professor Robert Swanepoel, a consultant for the specialist pathogens unit, said they would have to settle on one which did not create negative connotations for the area from which the first patients came. Traditionally viruses are named after the area that the first patients are known to originate from, for instance the Ebola and Marburg virus.

Swanepoel said they would not want to wipe out tourism in an area or create fearful associations.

– (Sapa, October 2008)

Shades of the fuss surounding the naming of the hantavirus causing a fatal pulmonary disease first described from around the Four Corners region of the US around 1993: this was first called Four Corners virus, then, when people there objected, Muerto Canyon virus with the same result, then Sin Nombre virus [=virus without a name in Spanish]….

I could suggest Bamba zonke virus [=take all], but that is frivolous – and It doesn’t matter what it is called.  It is just a really good idea to get out there and find it, and all its potential relatives, in their natural hosts. 

So that we know what the potential threat is.


6 Responses to “Zambia fever, again”

  1. Edu Says:

    While I find a lot of news on this virus in South Africa,I find absolutely nothing about infections in Zambia and what they are doing about it. Seeing as the disease actually originated there, I expected more. Does anyone know what is happening there? Is it safe to travel there?

  2. Ed Rybicki Says:

    @Edu: anecdotally – as in, from my network of friends in Zambia, some of whom knew Cecilia van Deventer – nothing is happening up there. This is an isolated incident, very much like the case of the Australian hitch hiker going through Zimbabwe who caught Marburg some 30 years ago. No-one ever found the source of that, and there were never any more cases in the whole region.

    So: yes, it is as safe to travel there as it has ever been (I grew up there and have been back twice in 8 years and I am still around…B-)

  3. Mbulawa Says:

    Edu, there is no evidence whatsoever that the disease ‘actually originated’ from Lusaka. You are now speculating! None of Cecilia Van Venters close associates in Lusaka nor workers at the private clinic in Lusaka where she was admitted came down with the disease. The Zambian health authorities rightly concentrated on observing this small circle of Cecilia contacts . There was no need to be alarmist. It is a pity Cecilia and the paramedic who accompanied succumbed to this mysterious virus. Wonder is; why did they both start bleeding at the Joburg Morningside clinic? No one died in Lusaka but 4 people died in Joburg. It is safe to visit Zambia. No one even remembers the ‘mysterious disease’. It was an unfortunate isolated incidence involving two very unlucky individuals.

  4. Ed Rybicki Says:

    @Mbulawa: muli bwanji, BTW, and you are quite right – mostly. There is more evidence that it came from Zambia than from anywhere else, and especially the Morningside Clinic! However: like that Marburg infection in an Australian hitchhiker who died in South Africa in 1976, who almost certainly picked it up in Zimbabwe…no-one else at the supposed point of origin got sick, and no-one knows where exactly it came from.


    Bob Swanepoel and colleagues from the NICD in Johannesburg are looking. There may yet be a “Makeni virus”, “Chilanga virus” or possibly even a “Leopard’s Hill Road virus”…..

  5. Deadly Export « ViroBlogy Says:

    […] By Ed Rybicki Hot on the heels of the arenavirus outbreak in South Africa recently – traced back to Zambia – comes the story of an unfortunate South African business traveller who took sick and then died in […]

  6. Down, Lujo! « ViroBlogy Says:

    […] Zambia Fever, Again […]

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