Two new viruses have been discovered in Nigeria by a team of scientists from Nigeria and the United States of America.
The scientists said the viruses discovered were related to rabies adding that the new viruses had some level of similarities to the virus responsible for cases of viral haemorrhagic fever in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2012.
The team said though the threat of these viruses to the population had not been confirmed, the discovery was a breakthrough that would help to diagnose yet-unknown fever cases in the country.
The Director, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Abuja, Prof. Abdulsalami Nasidi, has also described the discovery as a major breakthrough for Nigerian scientists.
The team was led by a Professor of Molecular Biology and Genomics, Dr. Christian Happi. Happi is the Director, African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, Redeemer?s University, Mowe, Ogun State.
The scientists named the viruses Ekpoma virus-1 (EKV-1) and Ekpoma virus-2 (EKV-2), after the region in Edo State where they investigated cases of individuals that had the virus in them.
The study population consisted of men and women from all age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds living in and around Irrua, which is close to Ekpoma.
The discovery was published on Wednesday in an article titled ?Discovery of Novel Rhabdoviruses in the Blood of Healthy Individuals from West Africa? in the PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases journal.
The scientists said the discovery was possible through the use of the ?next-generation sequencing,? a high-throughput method for sequencing DNA and RNA, which has the potential to transform virus discovery because it does not depend on culturing the pathogen or a prior knowledge of the pathogen?s nucleic acid sequence.
A part of the article read, ?We used next-generation sequencing to identify RNA viruses present in the blood of patients with unexplained fever, as well as apparently healthy individuals in a peri-urban community in Nigeria. We found several well-characterised viruses in the blood of the febrile patients, including HIV-1, hepatitis B and C, as well as Lassa virus. We also discovered two novel rhabdoviruses in the blood of two apparently healthy (afebrile) females, which we named Ekpoma virus-1 and Ekpoma virus-2.
?Our results suggest that such rhabdovirus infections could be common, and may not necessarily cause overt disease. The identification of viral nucleic acid sequences in apparently healthy individuals highlights the need for a broader understanding of all viruses infecting humans as we increase efforts to identify viruses causing human disease.?
In a telephone interview with our correspondent on Wednesday, Happi said, ?This discovery points to the fact that the genomics for pathogen discovery platform that we have set up at Redeemer?s University is rapidly advancing health Sciences in Africa.?
He further said, ?These two new viruses are also related to rabies, which is a very dangerous disease. The discovery also shows clearly that there are a lot of potentially dangerous viruses circulating around that science has not yet discovered and there is no diagnosis yet. Once we discovered these new viruses, we went to do proper diagnosis.
?We have not yet confirmed the threat to the population but what this means is that there are viruses which could be causing diseases outbreak in the country that we don?t know anything about. We could potentially have disease outbreak in the country due to viruses that we don?t know anything about.
?It?s important that the ministry of health should work with us to put in place a surveillance system so that we should be able to identify the pathogens that are responsible for some unknown causes of fever. Also, not only we would know the pathogens responsible for fever cases, but we should be able to discover new viruses that could be potential threat to the population.?
Nasidi said the viruses do not pose any immediate threat to the populace.
He said, ?There is no potential threat to the country from these viruses for now. The federal ministry of health is giving this discovery serious attention and we commend the scientists and the group that worked with them. So, our government should listen to Nigerian scientists, we are now capable and competing with international counterparts. Before we didn?t have the capabilities, so this discovery is very significant for us.
?It means that we are putting in place in the country capabilities to be able, not only to detect diseases, but also to discover their causes; that is empowering our research centres. As I am talking to you, we are working on establishing our national reference laboratory that would be based in Abuja.?