It looks as though this is petering out – in its Johannesburg incarnation, anyway. From Health24 30th October 2008:
The virus that killed four people and infected another appears to have been contained.
The virus, identified as a member of the arenavirus family, which also includes the germ [sic] that causes Lassa fever. “There are currently no additional suspected cases,” the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a posting dated October 26, based on information received last week. “The outbreak appears to be contained and has been confined to individuals with very close contact in a health-care setting.” ….
The patients first experienced flu-like symptoms, but the illness worsened over the course of a week with diarrh[o]ea, a sore throat and a rash on the face and throat. Bleeding was not a prominent feature among the fatal cases, all of which lasted about nine to 12 days and ended in rapid deterioration with troubled breathing and circulatory failure, the report said.
Reuters Health, October 2008
OK, so the outbreak appears to be winding down: no new cases, old cases resolved – and no clue yet as to where the virus came from, or what the reservoir is.
Another news item from the same source:
Genetic testing indicate that the mysterious haemorrhagic disease which killed three people in the country is a new type of arenavirus, the SABC reported on Monday.
“We don’t know why it is so pathogenic. It is a new virus, not like Lassa,” Dr Ian Lipkin of Columbia University in New York Lipkin told a news conference at a meeting of infectious disease experts.
And then this, on 31st October 2008, also from Health24:
Arenavirus identified: authorities
Last updated: Thursday, October 30, 2008
“A new type of arenavirus has been identified as the cause of the deaths of four people since September, specialists at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg said on Thursday.
“There is no doubt we are dealing with a newly emerged virus,” said Janusz Paweska, head of the special pathology unit at the NICD. The virus belongs to the “old world” arenavirus, but until two weeks ago, they did not know they were dealing with a new virus.
Virus still to be named
The NICD worked with a network of specialists globally, and the virus was identified by themselves and a laboratory in Atlanta in the USA. At a press conference in Johannesburg, they said a name was still being chosen for the virus.
Professor Robert Swanepoel, a consultant for the specialist pathogens unit, said they would have to settle on one which did not create negative connotations for the area from which the first patients came. Traditionally viruses are named after the area that the first patients are known to originate from, for instance the Ebola and Marburg virus.
Swanepoel said they would not want to wipe out tourism in an area or create fearful associations.
– (Sapa, October 2008)
Shades of the fuss surounding the naming of the hantavirus causing a fatal pulmonary disease first described from around the Four Corners region of the US around 1993: this was first called Four Corners virus, then, when people there objected, Muerto Canyon virus with the same result, then Sin Nombre virus [=virus without a name in Spanish]….
I could suggest Bamba zonke virus [=take all], but that is frivolous – and It doesn’t matter what it is called. It is just a really good idea to get out there and find it, and all its potential relatives, in their natural hosts.
So that we know what the potential threat is.