Finding Needles in Haystacks

The journal Emerging Infectious Diseases recently published a case report of a novel virus that infected a wildlife biologist working with bats in Uganda and South Sudan. The patient became ill upon return to the US and her symptoms--fever, myalgias (muscle pains), arthralgias (joint pain), and rash--were severe enough to warrant hospitalization. As part of the workup of her illness, samples of her blood were sent to CDC where a novel paramyxovirus, related to known bat viruses, was isolated. It has been named Sosuga virus. 

A couple of elements of the case really highlight where zebras are best found (i.e. novel viruses):

  • The case patient was a wildlife biologist, someone who operates at the interface of humans and animals. 
  • The case patient travelled to Uganda and South Sudan, areas that are considered hot spots for novel pathogens given the geographic diversity of the flora, fauna, and wildlife found there. 
  • As bats are one of the most populous mammal species on the planet, it is not a surprise that they are a major source of zoonotic infections. As such, exposure to bats is a known risk factor for disease acquisition. Several emerging infectious diseases are linked to bats (SARS, Hendravirus, Nipah virus, Ebola, and Marburg) as well as classical diseases such as rabies. 
  • Hendra and Nipah viruses, both acquired from bats, are also paramyxoviruses. 

This case exemplifies the value of targeting pathogen discovery to the highest yield venues, making the needle in the haystack a little more visible.