In 1959 and the early 1960s, people in Bolivia started to experience outbreaks of what they called, “Black Typhus,” or more commonly known as Bolivian hemorrhagic fever. These people living in the San Joaquin area of eastern Bolivia, began seeing symptoms of hemorrhaging, high fevers, pain, and rapid death being caused by this “Black Typhus.”
Turns out, that what was causing the spread of this illness was the Machupo virus in the urine and feces of mice. The people of Bolivia would sweep their floors and when they did that, the fecal matter would be carrying the virus as it dusted the air, and the people breathed it in. This, of course, caused panicking and wide, rapid spreading of suffering and death within the villagers. Next, the Bolivian authorities turned to U.S. scientists for help.
History of the Identification
U.S. scientists investigated the illness for months and finally distinguished the Machupo virus from the Arenavirus family (the family of viruses which infect rodents, humans and in some cases, snakes). One of the scientists working in Bolivia was Karl Johnson from the National Institute of Health. He made a portable lab in which he housed research mice in sterile conditions.
As the identification process was still underway, 20% of the San Joaquin villagers died and several virologists got sick. Ever since, outbreaks of Machupo have happened in eastern and northern Bolivia, in which the virus is endemic, or regularly found.
Epidemiology and Pathogenesis
The Machupo virus has a 25% to 35% mortality rate. It was first investigated in San Joaquin. Scientists ended the outbreak by controlling the population of the rodents in 1964. The main species that carries the virus is Calomys Collosus.
There have been recent outbreaks that have happened, which means researchers need to get back on the case and finally figure out a vaccination before more and more outbreaks happen.
Full List of Symptoms
If they have Bolivian hemorrhagic fever for 1 to 5 days, a patient will see fever, nausea, Leukopenia (reduction of white cells in the blood), Thrombocytopenia (not enough platelets in the blood), proteinuria (abnormal amounts of protein the urine), headache, malaise (generally feeling ill with no real identification), myalgia (muscle pain), dehydration, and cough.
If a patient were to have it for 2 to 10 days, they could have symptoms of hypothermia, hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure), hemorrhage of mucosal membranes, petechiae (red or purple spot on the skin caused by the breaking of a capillary vessel in the blood), nosebleeds, vomiting blood, melena (dark, sticky feces consisting of partially digested blood), menorrhagia (bleeding heavier than normal during menstruation), encephalopathy, trembling and muscle spasms, delirium, and comas.
Finally, if someone had it for weeks to even months, they could experience hair loss, weakness, abnormally fast pulses, beau’s lines, or deep grooves in the fingernails or toenails.
Diagnosis, Treatment, and Care
There are two methods of identification for the Machupo virus. They can only be performed in the late stages of the first phase (1 to 5 days). However, even though they can identify the virus, there still aren’t any vaccines or therapeutics for it that are approved by the FDA. This means that the people who are diagnosed are isolated and put on IV to make them as comfortable as possible and then the doctors have them drink a lot of water.
Scientists have come up with a human immunoglobulin which was working for rhesus monkeys with the disease. They haven’t completed any human trials yet because some of the monkeys started developing chronic, late neurological syndrome. 3 of 4 of the monkeys who had the syndrome died.