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You Don’t Need to Worry About the New Ebola-Like Virus If You Live in the U.S.

Woman scientist in the laboratory.

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Key Takeaways

  • The Chapare virus, which is similar to the Ebola virus, recently caused a small outbreak in Bolivia. Scientists have discovered that it can spread from person-to-person.
  • There is no known treatment for the Chapare virus.
  • Experts say that people living in the United States do not have to worry about the new Ebola-like virus unless they will be traveling to places like Bolivia where the virus has been found.

Scientists have discovered that a deadly virus found in South America that causes similar symptoms to Ebola can spread from person to person. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented their research on the Chapare virus at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

The research also presented early evidence about the species of rodent that carries the Chapare virus. The findings included information on how the rodents can spread the virus to humans directly or to other animals that can then infect humans.

What This Means For You

If you’re not planning to travel to Bolivia any time soon, there’s really no reason to worry about the Chapare virus. However, if you do travel to the country, it’s a good idea to at least be aware of the symptoms and take preventative steps to stay safe.

What Is the Chapare Virus?

While the Chapare virus is largely a mystery, the researchers discovered new clues using data from five infections that occurred near La Paz in Bolivia in 2019. Three of those infections were fatal.

Before the recent Chapare virus cases emerged, the only known outbreak of the disease was a small cluster in Bolivia's Chapare Province in 2003.

The most recent outbreak led infectious disease experts from Bolivia's Ministry of Health, the CDC, and the Pan-American Health Organization to dive into the origins of the disease. They also developed a new diagnostic test for the virus.

"Our work confirmed that a young medical resident, an ambulance medic, and a gastroenterologist all contracted the virus after encounters with infected patients—and two of these healthcare workers later died," Caitlin Cossaboom, DVM, PhD, MPH, an epidemiologist with the CDC's Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, said in a press release. "We now believe many bodily fluids can potentially carry the virus."

The researchers found evidence that the medical resident who died from the virus may have been infected while she was suctioning saliva from a patient. The ambulance medic who was infected and survived was likely infected when he resuscitated the medical resident as she was being transported to the hospital once she developed symptoms. 

The CDC's research on the human-to-human transmission of the virus highlights the importance of making sure that healthcare providers (and anyone else who interacts with patients) avoid contact with anything that could be contaminated with blood, urine, saliva, or semen.

The researchers also detected viral RNA in the semen of one survivor 168 days after infection, raising the possibility of sexual transmission.

Should You Worry?

If you live in the United States, how likely is it that you would come into contact with the Chapare virus? “It’s very rare,” Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Verywell.

According to the CDC, the only documented outbreaks of CHHF have occurred in select regions of Bolivia. Watkins adds that arenaviruses similar to Chaparae that have caused disease in humans have been found in other areas of South America.

Watkins says that Americans shouldn’t stress over the Chapare virus. Outbreaks of the virus have been limited and occurred many years apart, meaning a pandemic is likely not imminent.

However, if you’re planning to travel to Bolivia, the CDC recommends that you stay clear of areas that are infested with rodents and avoid touching the bodily fluids of people who are sick.

How Does the Chapare Virus Spread?

The Chapare virus causes Chapare hemorrhagic fever (CHHF), a viral fever that leads to bleeding. The Chapare virus is a member of the arenavirus family, a class of viruses that usually spreads to people through direct contact with infected rodents or indirectly through the urine or feces of an infected rodent.

People can breathe in the virus after it's been stirred up in the air or when they eat food that’s been contaminated with urine, saliva, or droppings from infected rodents.

An infected person can spread the illness to other people through their bodily fluids or during medical procedures that aerosolize the infected person’s bodily fluids, like CPR and intubation.

It’s not clear which type of rodent usually spreads the Chapare virus, but researchers have detected the virus in pigmy rice rats and small-eared pigmy rice rats near La Paz.

Symptoms of Chapare Virus

Once someone is infected with the Chapare virus, it can take between four and 21 days to develop symptoms. The symptoms of Chapare hemorrhagic fever include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Pain behind the eyes
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bleeding gums
  • Rash
  • Irritability

Chapare virus has a high fatality rate: 60% of patients died in the most recent outbreak.

Chapare Virus Treatment

There is no definitive treatment for the Chapare virus. However, the CDC says that medical personnel should try to keep patients comfortable. Interventions that can be used as supportive care include:

  • Providing hydration and managing shock
  • Offering sedation and pain relief
  • Giving blood transfusions (if needed)
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Article Sources
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  1. Morales-Betoulle M, Loayza R, Avila C, Cossaboom C, Sasias S, Cruz M, et al. Detection & characterization of a novel strain of Chapare virus during an outbreak of viral hemorrhagic fever in Bolivia, 2019. American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Updated November 16, 2020.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chapare Hemorrhagic Fever Overview. Updated November 18, 2019.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chapare Hemorrhagic Fever: Risk of Exposure. Updated November 18, 2019.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chapare Hemorrhagic Fever: Prevention. Updated November 2019.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chapare hemorrhagic fever (CHHF): transmission. Updated November 18, 2019.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chapare hemorrhagic fever: signs and symptoms. Updated November 18, 2019.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chapare hemorrhagic fever: treatment. Updated November 18, 2019.