Thursday, January 19, 2012

Possibly Novel Virus, Schmallenberg*, Already Leaving a Mark

*Not a human virus.

Research and public health agencies throughout Europe are currently racing to understand, characterize, and develop treatments for an apparently novel virus that suddenly and mysteriously appeared in livestock throughout Northern Europe. Though the Schmallenberg virus, named after the German town where the first positive samples were found, is not a human virus, its mysterious origin and potential economic impact make it a virus worth watching and studying. Emerging sometime last year, most likely between November and December, the virus went undetected until waves of abortions, reminiscent of the devastating effects of rift valley fever, began appearing in herds of livestock. This ability, coupled with severe teratogenic effect, threatens the survival and economic viability of herds as the rate of birth defects skyrockets to nearly 20 to 50% after infection. For this reason, quarantine measures have been put into place, including a recent ban by Russia on meat from the Netherlands, which is near the focus of the outbreak.

As of yet, scientists have not confirmed much of the virus' characteristics, including its route of transmission or exact pathology, but have identified the virus as a member of the orthobunyaviridae genus in the family bunyaviridae. Using the viral toolbox, one would guess, and many scientists already assume, that the virus is spread by mosquitos as many already characterized bunyaviruses use mosquitoes as a vector. For now, the virus's complete sequence is near completion and researchers have already successfully cultured it using insect cells, so a more complete description of the virus can be expected in the near future. What is already known though may present a unique case of a laboratory principle occurring very successfully in the wild. Current sequencing data indicates that of the virus' 3 genomic segments, a characteristic of all bunyaviruses, two have a strong resemblance to that of Akabane virus while the other segment resembles that of Shamonda virus. While these two other viruses are closely related, the sudden appearance of a novel virus with segments from both implies a wild reassortment event between the two bunyaviruses that created Schmallenberg. For now, much of this logic lies in the realm of speculation, but would help to explain the sudden, violent appearance of this never-before-seen virus.

-Zachary Herrera
New Animal Virus Takes Europe by Surprise

Russia bans Imports of Dutch Meat over Virus.

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