A virus in hiding

A virus in hiding

Researchers find rare virus in ticks

Researchers have discovered that a tick common to the southeastern United States may harbor an unusual virus that belongs to the family Arenaviridae. Some arenaviruses are associated with severe hemorrhagic disease and significant mortality in people in South America and sub-Saharan Africa.

Known as Tacaribe virus, the virus discovered in ticks has never before been found in an animal or human species in the United States, report scientists from the UF colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Public Health and Health Professions in a study that appeared in the journal PLOS ONE in December. The researchers found evidence of the virus in nearly 10 percent of ticks collected and they cultured the virus from ticks trapped in North Central Florida.

Although Tacaribe virus is not known to cause human infections, the association that other viruses in the arenavirus family have with human illness, its relative rarity and unknown host in nature intrigue the study’s authors.

“This finding is exciting because it expands the range in which these viruses might be circulating in the environment,” said Katherine Sayler, Ph.D., who completed her doctoral degree from the UF veterinary college in December and is the study’s lead author. “It also raises some really interesting questions about human risk.”

One of 29 distinct mammalian viruses that are part of the arenavirus family, Tacaribe virus was last isolated in bats during a rabies surveillance survey conducted in Trinidad in the late 1950s. Only one sample of Tacaribe virus from that survey remains, and molecular testing confirmed that the new tick-derived viral specimen was nearly identical genetically to that remaining sample. — Sarah Carey