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Medicine

Submission + - New species-jumping infection discovered. (sciencemag.org)

RockDoctor writes: Diseases caused by organisms moving from one host to another host, and then becoming more virulent in the process, or starting to spread even further, are well known and a cause of real concern to doctors — of both humans and animals. For example, Anthrax has long been known as an annoying disease of cattle, but when humans become infected with the spores it can become both dangerous and be transmitted human-to-human. The haemmoragic fevers (examples : Ebola and Marburg viruses) are more nasty examples. In the 1970s, 1980s, and into the 1990s, barbaric and cannibalistic livestock management practices led to the movement of the disease scrapie from sheep (where it has been known for centuries) into cattle and then into humans with a human death toll likely to reach the thousands.

Veterinary scientists in Belgium, German and the Netherlands are concerned about a new disease emerging in their cattle, sheep and goat herds. While the associated fever and loss of milk production are economically concerning, the disease also leads to many still births and developmental disorders in the foetuses such as hydraencephaly ("water on the brain") and scoliosis (curvature of the spine). Which are frequently disabling if not lethal.

The causative organism has been identified as a virus in a family transmitted by mosquitoes and midges. Related viruses are known to infect cattle, sheep, buffalo, camels, dogs and (ominously) "other species". That is a fairly wide spread of target organisms, which would mean that animal-to-human transmission cannot be ruled out on principle.

"[These]viruses have been neglected for a long time, and we just don't know a lot about them," says a researcher, than adding "The problem with [them] is that their segmented genome makes the emergence of new combinations very easy, just like with influenza viruses,"

In a dig at the insanity of patent systems, the article adds "In order not to lose time and to answer the most pressing questions fast, [a research centre] has decided not to file for any patents on [this virus]-related discoveries. "Our resources are limited," [another researcher] says, "and we are happy to share our knowledge and materials with anyone interested in it for noncommercial or commercial reasons."

My joy at hearing this news is immeasurable, since getting bitten by midges is a normal part of my summer hill-walking. Just what the world needs ; another novel disease coming out of the unknown!

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