The mystery behind the outbreak of some sort of hemorrhagic fever in Zambia is beginning to be solved by the CDC and the South African government. For those not watching such things: Three people are dead from what is now believed to be a form of arenavirus.
The index case -- Patient Zero of this new and so-far unknown variant -- is a Zambian who was hospitalized in Johannesburg, South Africa. Two persons who were in the hospital for treatment unassociated with the index patient's disease (nosocomial) also develped symptoms and died. A fourth patient -- a nurse treating the second, NOT the index patient -- is in isolation and is being treated with ribavirin, which helps against lassa fever but is experimental when dealing with this new virus.
Here's a chilling paragraph from the proMED report:
"Arenaviruses cause chronic infection in wild rodents (multimammate mice) with excretion of virus in urine, which can contaminate human food or house dust. Arenaviruses have been found in southern African rodents in the past, but there has been no previous association with human disease. The virus associated with the present outbreak may prove to be a new member of the group." (bold mine)
So we have a new and previously undiagnosed form of arenavirus which has apparently jumped the species barrier from animals (rodents) to humans. Isn't that just lovely? And the virus is highly contagious to boot, as evidenced by the rapid spread to other patients in the hospital -- and the infection of the nurse who was attending one of the follow-on cases.
Now it could be forcefully argued that this could be a case of lax hospital protocols, were it not for the fact that South Africa is no stranger to Ebola, Lassa Fever and Marburg. This means they may have made some protocol errors, and that may be a leading, if not likely source of the contamination of the two other patients. But it also shows how devastatingly contagious this new disease is.
Samples are undergoing further testing to see if they can quantify the virus further. Again, from the proMED report: A chilling incubation period also exists for this new disease, an even longer incubation period than influenza.
"The incubation period for cases in the present cluster ranges from
7-13 days. There is a prodromal illness of about 7 days with myalgia, headache, diarrhoea, and a severe pharyngitis. This is followed by a more severe illness with moderate thrombocytopenia but no bleeding.
Hepatic dysfunction with raised transaminases has typically occurred late in the course of disease."