A team led by Jan ter Meulen while he was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) international research scholar at the University of Conakry in the Republic of Guinea, identified the new virus in an African wood mouse (Hylomiscus simus) in Sangassou, Guinea. Their findings are published in the May 2006 issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, published early online on April 18, 2006.
"This discovery represents the first genetic evidence for the presence of hantaviruses in Africa," said ter Meulen, who also holds a position at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. "This novel hantavirus is related to viruses that cause severe disease in humans in Central and Eastern Europe."
European and Asian hantaviruses cause hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS), a group of similar illnesses with symptoms including, fever, kidney failure, and bleeding. The viruses are carried by a number of rodents, including the brown rat, the striped field mouse, and the yellow-necked mouse. If left untreated, mortality can be as high as 15 percent.
Hantavirus was not seen in the Americas until 1993, when it killed approximately 20 people in the western United States. The American virus causes hantavirus pulmonary syndrome: fever, chills, and severe muscle pain, followed by respiratory distress. Nearly four in 10 cases are fatal. Initially called "Four Corners Disease," the malady was later traced to a previously unknown hantavirus carried by the deer mouse.
The team has suggested calling the virus they found the Sangassou virus, for the region in which it was found. This follows tradition; in 1976, the first hantavirus was found near--and named for--the Hantaan River near Seoul, South Korea.