A small but deadly outbreak that occurred in Bolivia provides new information about a mysterious virus discovered in 2004. The virus, called the virus Chapare by the region where it was first observed, it causes a hemorrhagic fever similar to that of Ebola. In 2019, five cases were confirmed near La Paz, and three of them were fatal.
Three of the reported cases have been in healthcare workers who may have contracted the virus from their patients. A resident physician who died from the disease may have been infected while sucking saliva from a patient, and an ambulance worker who was infected may have contracted the virus while resuscitating that resident physician, according to a report released today at the meeting. Annual of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Precisely this evidence of person-to-person transmission is cause for caution among health workers in the region, and the researchers urged anyone who deals with suspected cases of the Chapare virus to avoid contact with patients’ body fluids. .
The Chapare virus belongs to the arenavirus family, different from Ebola, but both can cause hemorrhagic fever in those infected. The deadly virus causes bleeding similar to that of Ebola.
Its symptoms may include fever, headache, abdominal pain, rash, and bleeding gums. Hemorrhagic fever can cause organ failure and fatal bleeding. As of today, there is no treatment for the Chapare virus.
The virus first emerged in 2004 in the Bolivian province of Chapare, some 595 kilometers east of the capital of La Paz.
The second outbreak started in a farm worker who likely contracted the Chapare virus through contact with urine or rat droppings, explained researcher Caitlin Cossaboom of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). During the annual meeting of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
This person, the researcher commented, investigated a doctor who treated him. In addition, another health professional who worked in the ambulance that transported the doctor to a hospital in La Paz was the next person in the chain of infections. The third person to be infected was a doctor from La Paz hospital.
“In all of those cases, we have definitive evidence of exposure to body fluids,” Cossaboom emphasized.
Both the initial patient, the town doctor and the La Paz doctor died of the Chapare virus. The ambulance paramedic and a fifth patient survived the infection.
Bolivian health authorities confirmed that a certain type of rats carry the Chapare virus.
South American countries that border Bolivia should be on the lookout for potential outbreaks of the Chapare virus in places where those species of mice are common, Cossaboom advised.
Scientists suspect that the Chipare virus may have been circulating in Bolivia for years, but that infected patients may have been wrongly diagnosed with dengue, a mosquito-borne viral disease common in the region.
Arenaviruses are very vulnerable to heat and to disinfectants like alcohol. Other known arenaviruses include dangerous pathogens such as the Lassa virus, which kills thousands a year in West Africa, and the Machupo virus, which has caused deadly outbreaks in Bolivia, the researchers said.