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A 20-year-old construction worker in Peru was admitted to a hospital in 2019, with malaria-like symptoms—fever, chills, headaches and muscle pain—which left doctors stumped. Further laboratory investigations over the intervening years have revealed a previously unknown pathogen.

The virus has been classified as a phlebovirus, of which there are 66 known species. These are usually spread by biting insects, such as mosquitoes, ticks or sandflies, and cause diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and Rift Valley fever. They can be fatal if not treated in time.

Analysis suggests that this “entirely new virus was created by an Echarate virus (ECHV) exchanging fragments of DNA with another virus, known as a ‘recombinant event,’” according to MSN News.

“Writing in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, the authors warned the virus is likely already circulating in the jungles of Peru, and monitoring must be maintained. They also highlighted that the new disease appears similar to other tropical diseases, meaning it may be difficult to identify.”

The institutions involved in the study included those not usually seen in civilian medical research: U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit SOUTH, Lima, Peru; Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Fort Belvoir, Virginia; Biological Defense Research Directorate, Naval Medical Research Command, Fort Detrick, Maryland; and Leidos, Inc. in Reston, Virginia—a Department of Defense contractor which employs people with top-secret security clearance.

Emerging Infectious Diseases authors concluded: “Because the clinical symptoms of infection with this variant are also characteristic of dengue, malaria, and other tropical infectious diseases common in this region continued AFI [acute febrile illness] biosurveillance is needed to detect novel and emerging pathogens to protect the health of the population and U.S. service members deployed in affected areas in Peru.”

Peru and neighboring Ecuador have been swept by a number of diseases in recent years. Over 2022-2023, Peru was hit with outbreaks of monkeypox, dengue fever and Guillain-Barré Syndrome, while Ecuador saw a case of a human infection by an avian Influenza A H5, which is highly pathogenic. These viruses represent a permanent threat to the public due to their potential zoonotic transmission.