Meet Měnglà Virus: the newest cousin in the Ebola and Marburg virus family tree

Ebola virus (EBOV) and Marburg virus (MARV) are two closely-related viruses in the family Filoviridae. Filoviruses are often pathogenic, causing hemorrhagic fever disease in human hosts. The Ebola outbreak of 2014 caught the world by surprise by spreading so quickly and severely that public health organizations were unprepared. The devastating outcome was a total of over 11,000 deaths by the time the outbreak ended in 2016. Research that provides further understanding of filoviruses and their potential for transmission is important in preventing future outbreaks from occurring. But what if the outbreak comes from a virus we’ve never seen before?

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Měnglà virus was discovered among filoviruses isolated from Old World fruit bats (Rousettus)

All in the viral family

A recent study published in the journal Nature Microbiology provides evidence of a newly identified filovirus species. Using serum samples taken from bats, a well-known host for filoviruses, Yang et al. isolated and identified viral RNA for an unclassified viral genome sequence using next generation sequencing analysis. This new virus genome sequence was organized with the same open reading frames as other filoviruses, encoding for nucleoprotein (NP), viral protein 35 (VP35), VP40, glycoprotein (GP), VP30, VP24, and RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (L). This new genome sequence shared up to 54% of the nucleotide sequences for the filovirus species Lloviu virus (LLOV), EBOV and MARV, with MARV being the most similar. Their analysis suggested that this novel virus should be classified within the Filoviridae family tree as a separate genus, Dianlovirus, and was named Měnglà virus (MLAV).

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Promising Treatment for Marburg Virus Hemorrhagic Fever

This negative stained transmission electron micrograph depicts a number of filamentous Marburg virions. Note the virus’s characteristic “Shepherd’s Crook” shape; Magnified approximately 100,000x. Content Providers(s): CDC/ Dr. Erskine Palmer, Russell Regnery, Ph.D., via Wikimedia Commons
I admit to some trepidation about the diseases that may be harbored in my backyard. For example, do the mice in my yard and, despite my and my cats’ efforts, in my house carry deer ticks that harbor the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease? Should I be keeping an eye on the vitality of the birds around my property and density of my local mosquito population for potential risk of West Nile Virus transmission? As troublesome as these infections can be, mortality is low for infected humans. Contrast that with the mortality rate of up to 90% for the filoviruses Ebola and Marburg. I find it easy to dismiss these viruses because the reservoir (asymptomatic host) is not in the Upper Midwest but rather Africa, but the tragedy of the Ebola outbreak in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea demonstrates the number of lives lost in an epidemic. Currently, there is no therapy or vaccine to treat these deadly viruses other than transferring antibodies from survivors to those infected. Therefore, the article in Science Translational Medicine about an antiviral treatment that protected macaques injected with a lethal dose of Marburg virus was welcome news. Continue reading “Promising Treatment for Marburg Virus Hemorrhagic Fever”