Sunday, March 24, 2013

Deadly Virus Missing from Biomedical Research Facility

According to Galveston County The Daily News, a potentially deadly virus has gone missing from a secure biomedical research facility at The University of Texas Medical Branch’s Galveston National Laboratory.

Virus goes missing at UTMB lab

GALVESTON — A vial containing a potentially deadly virus has gone missing from a secure biomedical research facility at The University of Texas Medical Branch’s Galveston National Laboratory.
The medical branch made the announcement Saturday afternoon, while stressing that there was no reason to believe there is a threat to the public.

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from the houston chronicle:
"The missing vial, which contains less than a quarter of a teaspoon a potentially harmful material, had been stored in a locked freezer, designed to handle biological material safely, within the Galveston National Laboratory on UTMB's campus, according to a statement from the medical branch released Saturday. During a routine internal inspection on Wednesday and Thursday, UTMB officials realized one vial of a virus called Guanarito was not accounted for at the facility. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was notified immediately.
UTMB said that there was no breach in the facility's security and no indication that any wrongdoing is involved, according to the statement.
This marks the first time that any vial containing a select agent has been unaccounted for at UTMB, officials said. The vial does not appear to have been stolen. Officials suspect that the virus was likely destroyed during the normal laboratory decontamination and cleaning process, but the investigation is ongoing.
Guanarito is native only to Venezuela and can cause hemorrhagic fever. The virus is not known to be transmitted person-to-person and poses no public health risk, according to officials. In the limited area of Venezuela where the virus is found, it is transmitted only by rodents native to the area and is not believe to be capable of surviving naturally in rodents in the United States."
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Guanarito Virus:
Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever (VHF) is a zoonotic human illness first identified in 1989. The disease is most prevalent in several rural areas of central Venezuela and is caused by the Guanarito (GTOV) arenavirus belonging to the Arenaviridae family. The short-tailed cane mouse (Zygodontomys brevicauda) is the main host for GTOV [1] which is spread mostly by inhalation of aerosolized droplets of saliva, respiratory secretions, urine, or blood from infected rodents.[2] Person-to-person spread is possible, but uncommon.


From September 1989 through December 2006, the State of Portuguesa recorded 618 cases of VHF. Nearly all of the cases were individuals who worked or lived in Guanarito during the time they became infected. The case fatality rate was 23.1%.[3]
Because the virus is contracted by aerosol dissemination, concern arose shortly after the first cases emerged in 1989 due to fear of biological warfare. Potential biological terrorism agents were identified and categorized in 1999 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of the Congressional initiative to further response capabilities to biological weapons [4] . Arenaviruses causing hemorrhagic fevers, along with a genus of virus called filoviruses, were categorized in Category A; these are pathogens with the highest potential impact on public health safety.


Arenaviruses are enveloped, single-stranded, bisegmented RNA viruses with ambisense genomes.[5] Based on their antigenic properties, arenaviruses have been classified into two major groups: the Old World arena viruses, and the New World arenaviruses. Old World arena viruses include lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, and Lassa virus. New world arena viruses are further broken down into three clades, A, B, and C. The Guanarito arena virus belongs to clade B and is the cause of VHF. On the biosafety level scale of one to four, with four causing the most risk, the viruses causing hemorrhagic fevers have been assigned a four by the CDC.[6]


The short-tailed cane mouse, the main host of GTOV, is native to western Venezuela and resides in large numbers in tall grass, cultivated agricultural fields, human homes, and outbuildings.[3] It is speculated that demographic and ecological changes in the rural areas increased the frequency of contact between humans and infected rodents such that VHF emerged.[3]


VHF has many similarities to Lassa fever and to the arenavirus hemorrhagic fevers that occur in Argentina and Bolivia.[5] It causes fever and malaise followed by hemorrhagic manifestations and convulsions.[7] Some presentations of the virus are also characterized by vascular damage, bleeding diathesis, fever, and multiple organ involvement. Clinical diagnosis of VHF has proven to be difficult based on the nonspecific symptoms.[4] The disease is fatal in 30% of cases and is endemic to Portuguesa state and Barinas state in Venezuela.
Treatment and prevention for the VHF virus are limited and there are currently no licensed vaccines available that can act to prevent the disease [4] . However, once infected, Ribavirin, an anti-viral drug given intravenously, is one way to treat VHF.

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