A group of scientists have discovered a new virus that is related to some of the deadliest viruses to primates (including humans). The virus was isolated in bats in northern Spain.
The new virus is quite similar to another filovirus, the Ebola virus, which had 90 percent mortality in the first outbreak in humans, recorded in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), 1976.
The Spanish strain is temporarily named the Lloviu virus, after the cave in which the bats were found. Substantial bat die-off in French, Spanish and Portuguese caves prompted scientific investigation by Spanish and US scientists. Researchers found the virus, in a number of dead Miniopterus schreibersii bats, but not in other bat species, or in healthy bats collected from different geographic locations in Spain.
Bats are vectors, or carriers, of certain diseases, but are often not affected by these diseases. In this case, the Lloviu virus was found in dead M. schreibersii bats but not in live, healthy ones, suggesting that the virus might be harmful to bats. This concerns scientists who explain that bats play an important role in plant pollination, seed spreading and insect control.
This discovery is particularly intriguing because filoviruses have historically only been found in sub Saharan Africa and the Philippines. This is the first time such a virus has been detected outside of the endemic area; amplifying researchers need to study the transmission of filoviruses.
Much research is still being done on filoviruses. They have been classified by the World Health Organization as “Biological Level 4” agents, which means that they have a high mortality rate, can be spread person-to-person, have the potential for aerosol transmission and have no effective vaccine.
This family of viruses was discovered in 1967, when an outbreak occurred in Marburg, Germany. This particular filovirus (now called Marburg virus) was transmitted to lab workers by infected monkeys imported from Uganda. The only recorded cases of Marburg since the German outbreak were found in Kenya and Zimbabwe.
Filoviruses cause a sudden onset of symptoms such as: fever, chills, anorexia, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, and in the case of hemorrhagic illness; bleeding from internal organs.
While there is no vaccine or treatment specific to filoviruses, general treatment methods include maintaining blood and electrolyte levels and rehydration. Health care workers are advised by the WHO to keep infected patients isolated and to use barrier nursing conditions (wearing protective layers, such as masks and gloves) and not to re-use non-disposable items until they have been properly disinfected.