Saturday, August 9, 2014

New Smallpox Relative Discovered in Georgia (the country).

Smallpox Virus - False colored to demonstrate structure
Smallpox. It has been in the news a lot lately due to the recent discovery of viable virus tucked away in storage at a government facility in Maryland.

Smallpox killed an estimated 300 to 500 million people in the 1900's until it was eradicated in the late 1970's by an aggressive worldwide vaccination campaign.

Smallpox relatives are also particularly virulent. Other members of the orthopoxvirus family include cowpox, monkeypox, vaccinia, etc.

Recently, the CDC has announced a new orthopoxvirus that was discovered in three people from the nation of Georgia in Western Asia. Two of which were herdsmen who had daily contact with cows and other livestock.

Both men had painful blisters covering their body, swollen lymph nodes, and high fevers. 

If you have questions, use the comments section below!

It is believed that the new poxvirus spread to the two men from cattle. Most of the orthopoxviruses typically infect animals, then jump to humans who have close contact with animals carrying viruses. The new poxvirus is as yet unnamed since little is known about it, however thus far, no human to human spread has been documented.

The CDC interviewed 55 people who had contact with the herdsmen or their cattle. It was found that of nine interviewees (who were not previously vaccinated for smallpox) five had orthopoxvirus antibodies. It was also discovered that some of the herdsmen's cows had previously been exposed, more than likely by the rodents that live in the area.
Johann Friedrich Voltz - Herdsman and cows, in the distance a village
Issues like these continue to pop up. Nature can be difficult to predict. Not to be reactionary, but what if an "as virulent" relative of smallpox emerged? People are notorious for being terrible at risk-assessment and while I understand why people overreact to Ebola or Influenza, I don't understand why those overreactions don't translate to proper scientific research. 

I encourage everyone to use the comments section below!
  • Lance D. Presser has a PhD in microbiology and immunology and is a public health laboratorian.
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