25.06.2018 change 25.06.2018
Kamil Szubański
Kamil Szubański

Biologists found new viruses in small mammals

Photo: Fotolia Photo: Fotolia

Previously unknown species of viruses found in small mammals have been discovered by Polish and American scientists working in an international project. Researchers are also investigating whether these viruses can spread to humans.

New species of viruses affecting moles and water shrews - small insectivorous mammals - have been discovered by biologists from the Department of Biodiversity Studies, Teacher Training and Bioeducation at the University of Lodz in cooperation with scientists from the Medical University of Lodz and University in Manoa in Hawaii. The discovery was made as part of an international project concerning the search for and tests of viruses among small mammals such as shrews, moles, rodents and bats.

"Virtually every animal species has its own viruses, its persecutors. Some of them more, some less dangerous. Recently, many animal viruses have been studied and described, taking into account new groups of animals for which no research was carried out before" - says Dr. Janusz Hejduk from the Department of Biodiversity Studies, Teacher Training and Bioeducation, University of Lodz.

"It turned out that the diversity of these strains of viruses is quite large, and the individual strains differ in virulence - some cause major infections, others are virtually harmless and we do not see their effects" - adds the researcher.

During the research conducted near Łódź on water shrews and moles, biologists discovered new viruses. The Boginia virus, which attacks only water shrews, is named after a small village near Łódź. "Another discovery is a rather virulent strain of the Nova virus, which is dangerous for moles and occurs mainly in them. But it also turned out to be quite an aggressive pathogen for rodents" - says Dr. Hejduk.

In the context of this research, the scientists ask whether some virus strains - harmful and pathogenic for small mammals - can also threaten people.

"This is almost exclusively a potential threat, but it has already been proven that some of these small mammals carry viruses to the vicinity of humans, and some of these viruses can cause symptoms in humans - non-specific, harmless, until recently not properly diagnosed. But there are rare cases when these viruses are unfortunately very dangerous" - says Dr. Hejduk.

Scientists from Łódź study hantaviruses - a group of viruses that have already been found in humans. Some of them can cause severe infections, even death. Such cases, and even epidemics, occur in warmer parts of Europe, including the Balkans.

Dangerous infections caused by some of these viruses have also been observed in southern Poland - in people working in the forest and in farmers who have contact with small mammals.

According to Dr. Hejduk, for now there is no evidence that the viruses found in moles and shrews have affected people and caused any symptoms. "Let`s hope that they do not. But we should study them and have a database of potentially dangerous viruses, because each virus can mutate and change from inactive and harmless into a more aggressive form" - he adds.

The scientist emphasises that people suffer from many viral diseases, and pathogens that affect animals also tell us a lot about viruses that occur in humans.

"Perhaps some facts, some ways of dealing with these animal viruses that are harmless to us, can be transferred and used in the treatment of people or in the prevention of viral diseases" - concludes Dr. Janusz Hejduk.

PAP - Science in Poland, Kamil Szubański

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