Researchers On Alert To Find Dangerous Mutated Viruses
SAN FRANCISCO —
There is a new flu virus on the east coast that is attacking seals and sea lions. This virus — called H3N8 — was discovered after taking blood specimens from about two hundred seals on the east coast. Researchers say it evolved from the bird-influenza virus.
Veterinarian Dr. Bill Van Bonn from the Marine Mammal Center is vigilant when any animal arrives at the center. Viruses can adapt and jump from animal to humans.
“They are really good at adapting to the environment and changing over time,” explained Dr. Van Bonn.
Virologist Dr. Charles Chiu runs UCSF’s Diagnostic and Discovery Center. He and colleagues are detectives searching the globe for unknown killers.
Last Thursday he reported finding a completely new intestinal virus in sick California children, called the M-X Polyoma Virus.
Because similar viruses cause chronic diseases including cancer, researchers are now beginning to screen for M-X Polyoma Virus.
“There may possibly be an association with g-i cancers such as colon cancer,” said Dr. Chiu.
Just six weeks earlier, they reported finding a new African virus that may be responsible for widespread deaths. The BAS Congo Virus looks like rabies, but causes horrific rapidly fatal hemorrhagic fever, like Ebola. And it is passed from person to person.
Chiu and colleagues are right now examining samples from Yosemite’s deadly Hantavirus outbreak. That incurable mouse virus may have mutated making it even more dangerous to people.
“Because we can’t predict when the next pandemic or next epidemic, it’s really important we maintain constant vigilance,” said Dr. Chiu.
UCSF’s Diagnostic and Discovery Center does that with powerful high-speed DNA sequencing and computers. Finding tiny strings of virus DNA and RNA, which are virtual needles in the haystacks of biological samples and comparing them to known viruses.
“Because we know very little about the spectrum of viruses that cause disease in animals, I think we’re always at danger of having emerging viruses that can cross species,” said Dr. Chiu.
Every flu pandemic, SARS, the mysterious Heartland Virus discovered this summer in ticks, plus all the others we discussed emerged from animals to infect people.
Viruses have existed for at least 200 million years. Bits of viral DNA and RNA are in fact, in all human cells. It’s believed that viruses have likely shaped human evolution.
“I don’t think we should fear them, but we ought to respect them and understand them as much as possible,” said Veterinarian Dr. Van Bonn.
It’s estimated 95 percent of viruses are unknown. So make no mistake about viruses; scientists say we’re in a war for survival.