Photo: Pexels
Photo: Pexels

Even as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many other viral threats to contend with. In the latest worrying development of 2020, researchers have confirmed that a deadly virus similar to Ebola can undergo human to human transmission. The Chapare virus belongs to the arenavirus family that can cause haemorrhagic fevers.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been only a handful of cases, with only two documented outbreaks till date. "The first occurred in 2003 in Chapare Province, Bolivia, which resulted in one fatal case. The second outbreak occurred in 2019 in Caranavi Province, Bolivia and resulted in five confirmed cases— three of which were fatal," the CDC website explains. This in turn has hampered researchers looking to gain a detailed understanding of the virus.

According to reports researchers have no confirmed that in the 2019 outbreak, two patients had transmitted the virus to three healthcare workers in La Paz. Of these, one patient and two medical workers had passed away.

While arenaviruses are usually spread to people through direct contact with infected rodents or indirectly through the urine or feces (droppings) of an infected rodent, the recent research update concludes that "many bodily fluids can potentially carry the virus".

"An infected person can then spread the illness to other people through contact with the patient’s body fluids, or during procedures in healthcare settings that can aerosolize (spray particles of) the infected person’s body fluids—such as during chest compressions, CPR, and intubation," the CDC website adds.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of Chapare virus are similar to that of other South American hemorrhagic fevers. Symptoms can include fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, pain behind the eyes, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding gums, rash and irritability. These symptoms typically occur before later stage hemorrhagic signs (bleeding).

With the recorded cases still in the single digits, the available information is rather limited. The incubation period, or the time between initial exposure to the development of symptoms, is variable and ranges from 4 – 21 days for arenaviruses. While we do not know whether Chapare virus can be transmitted from mother to child, other arenaviruses have been documented to cause infection in utero.

Can it be treated or cured?

The limited information means that the mortality and risk factors for mortality remain unknown. Out of six documented cases in two outbreaks, four had been fatal. There is currently no treatment for Chapare virus, and people have to rely on supportive therapy to aid their recovery.

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