ATLANTA – Scientists have identified a lethal new virus in Africa that causes bleeding like the dreaded Ebola virus.
The so-called “Lujo” virus infected five people in Zambia and South Africa last fall. Four of them died, but a fifth survived, perhaps helped by a medicine recommended by the scientists.
It’s not clear how the first person became infected, but the bug comes from a family of viruses found in rodents, said Dr. Ian Lipkin, a Columbia University epidemiologist involved in the discovery. “This one is really, really aggressive” he said of the virus.
A paper on the virus by Lipkin and his collaborators was published online Thursday on in PLoS Pathogens.
The outbreak started in September, when a female travel agent who lives on the outskirts of Lusaka, Zambia, became ill with a fever-like illness that quickly grew much worse. She was airlifted to Johannesburg, South Africa, where she died.
A paramedic in Lusaka who treated her also became sick, was transported to Johannesburg and died. The three others infected were health care workers in Johannesburg. Investigators believe the virus spread from person to person through contact with infected body fluids.
“It’s not a kind of virus like the flu that can spread widely,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The name given to the virus – “Lujo” – stems from Lusaka and Johannesburg, the cities where it was first identified.
Investigators in Africa thought the illness might be Ebola, because some of the patients had bleeding in the gums and around needle injection sites. Other symptoms include include fever, shock, coma and organ failure.
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