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New World hemorrhagic fevers are emerging infectious diseases found in South America that can cause terrible, Ebola-like symptoms. Current treatments are expensive and only partially effective.
Now, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) researchers have discovered exactly how one type of New World hemorrhagic fever virus latches onto and infects human cells, offering a much-needed lead toward new treatments.
"New World hemorrhagic fevers are nasty, serious, and often fatal diseases," says Stephen C. Harrison, an HHMI investigator at Harvard Medical School and senior author of the report, published March 7, 2010, in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology. "The need for new interventions is high."
Arenaviruses, the infectious agents that cause New World hemorrhagic fevers, circulate naturally in rodents and can infect people who are in close contact with the animals. Symptoms include severe inflammation and bleeding from the mouth, nose, eyes, and other orifices. Most outbreaks occur in rural regions of Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil. "The outbreaks of New World hemorrhagic fever tend to be brief and brutal, with mortality rates of 20 to 30 percent," says Jonathan Abraham, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University and first author of the paper. "These viruses aren't a huge public health issue yet, but you could say the New World hemorrhagic fevers are an emerging disease threat."
Researchers have known about these viruses since the 1960s, but the molecular basis of the disease has only been tackled recently, says Abraham, whose graduate studies are funded by HHMI through a Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study. The Gilliam Fellowships program currently supports the doctoral education of 30 exceptional students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In 2007, Abraham
|Contact: Andrea Widener|
Howard Hughes Medical Institute