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Two new Viruses found in Myanmar

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    Posted: July 10 2018 at 6:14pm

Virus hunters identify two new pathogens in Myanmar


10 July 2018 • 5:28pm


Researchers have identified two new viruses in bats as part of a project to stop the next big disease outbreak in its tracks. 

The race is on to identify “disease X”: the unknown pathogen highlighted by the World Health Organization as having the potential to spark a global pandemic.

Virus hunters with the US-based Predict project, funded by USAID, is trawling the animal kingdom to identify new viruses with potential to spill over into the human population.

Now, scientists at the Smithsonian Institute in the United States and University of California, Davis have identified two new viruses in bats in Myanmar.

The virus belongs to the coronavirus family, which includes two pathogens that have already caused serious health outbreaks in the human population: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which spread around the world in 2003, infecting around 8,000 people; and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), first identified in 2012 and which has a 35 per cent mortality rate.

However – despite being in the same family – the two new viruses are not closely related to either SARS or MERS, say the scientists who identified them.

The scientists took fecal and saliva samples from 150 animals and, so far, have found two positive matches for diseases with the potential to jump to humans.

Marc Valitutto, a wildlife vet with Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute’s Global Health Program, said: “Our goal is to look for a pandemic virus, a virus that has the potential to have high mortality."

While he does not believe that the virus they have isolated will turn into a pandemic he says that it is important to keep track of them. 

"We already know about viruses that have mutated like avian influenza or swine it. It's a concern for us but right now it doesn't seem that this virus will do that. Virologists would be able to determine what level of mutation you would need for that to happen," he said. 

“We still have hundreds more samples to test and we expect that we will find more novel viruses.”

The team will now look at samples from people living in the area to find out whether the virus has already made the jump to humans and what the risks are for the disease to spread.

The Predict project is a forerunner of the bigger Global Virome Project – a 10-year plan to identify all the 1.67m unknown viruses in animals, some 800,000 of which researchers think have the potential to spread to humans. 

Africa and Asia are seen as the most likely places from which viruses will emerge as these are regions where humans are increasingly encroaching on the animal environment.

Dr Valitutto said: “We are seeing once pristine forests under threat for increased development, which brings wildlife in these areas in close contact with humans."

One goal of the virus hunting research is to ensure that the forest is protected, said Dr Valitutto.

“Our concern is that if you use the forest for roads and agriculture you disrupt the ecosystem. Animals will leave the forest and be exposed to humans,” he added.

Source and additional information:   https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/virus-hunters-identify-two-new-pathogens-myanmar/
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