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In this lesson, we’ll delve into the Arenaviridae virus family, where we will explore all sorts of odd sounding names like the Lujo virus, Lassa virus, lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus and plenty more!

The Importance of Certain DNA Viruses

Whenever you get sick with a really bad flu, you’re almost certain to have a really bad fever. It makes you lethargic, hurts your joints and your muscles. It’s really sad. However, you should consider you are a bit lucky, because other viruses can cause a fever as well, except that you’ll also get an additional surprise: internal bleeding that can lead to your death.

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Let’s explore this ‘minor’ concern as we take a look at the viruses of the Arenaviridae family.

Arenaviridae Structure and Transmission

Viruses in this family contain an ambisense single-stranded RNA genome, which basically means part of it has a positive sense and part of the genome has a negative sense. This genome is contained in a helical capsid that is surrounded by an envelope.What’s really interesting about this virus is that when looked at under the microscope, it has a slightly sandy appearance.

This is where the virus family gets its name, because arena means sand in Latin, kind of like the sandy arenas Roman gladiators used to fight in. The grainy or sand-like particles come from the ribosomes the virus acquires from its host during the budding process. As of yet, nobody really knows if these ribosomes actually serve any real function for the virus itself.Regardless, it’s really important to remember that the viruses in this family are found in rodents, which then transmit the viruses to humans. This tidbit should instantly make you realize that Arenaviruses are zoonotic, or can be transmitted from animals to humans. Once a human touches or eats an infected rodent or their excretions, they become infected and may then transmit the virus to another human by way of direct contact or through the spread of their own bodily secretions.

Lassa and Lujo Virus

One of the most important viruses of this family is known as Lassa virus.

This is a virus endemic to Africa that causes a condition which, in severe cases, may manifest itself into deadly forms of viral hemorrhagic fever, called Lassa fever. Viral hemorrhagic fever is a condition attributed to many different viruses that includes a combination of fever with bleeding of internal organs, under the skin or out of body orifices. This doesn’t sound pretty, and that’s because it isn’t.

In addition, some people permanently lose their hearing, even if they recover from Lassa fever.Despite the cute-looking nature of the rodents that carry this virus, one can never be too careful around them. Hundreds of thousands of people are affected by Lassa virus every year, and thousands die as a result of its consequences on the body.

Furthermore, there is no vaccine for Lassa virus or most viruses that cause viral hemorrhagic fevers; hence, proper sanitation and control of rodent populations is crucial to minimizing human disease.As if that wasn’t bad enough, there is a new, emerging virus in this family called Lujo virus that is a virus classified as a select agent that has so far killed 80% of the people it has infected. Even though not a lot of people have been infected by this virus as of yet, it has nevertheless caught the attention of the U.S. government. It’s classification as a select agent implies that it may pose a severe threat to human, plant or animal health and safety.

Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis

Last, but definitely not least, is a virus called lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus. This is a virus that in rare cases is associated with or causes deadly encephalitis and meningitis. Encephalitis is the inflammation of the brain, and meningitis is the inflammation of the protective layers of tissue covering the brain and spinal cord, called the meninges. These terms are derived from ‘encephalo-,’ meaning brain, ‘meningo-,’ meaning the meninges, and ‘-itis,’ which refers to inflammation.

The prefix ‘chorio-‘ in choriomeningitis refers to the choroid plexus that is involved. The choroid plexus is the structure that produces the cerebrospinal fluid that protects your brain.As I implied before, this virus may not cause any problems whatsoever, but in serious cases, patients can experience permanent neurological damage and even death. Unlike the Lassa virus, this virus isn’t endemic to only Africa. It has been found all over the world and is typically associated with – you guessed it – infected rodents, such as mice.

As you can tell, the viruses in this family are of utmost zoonotic concern.

Lesson Summary

Hopefully, if you have pet rodents, they’re not infected with this virus or any virus from the Arenaviridae family. Let’s focus in on reviewing the important concepts of this lesson, instead.One of the most important viruses of this family is known as Lassa virus. This is a virus endemic to Africa that causes a condition which, in severe cases, may manifest itself in deadly forms of viral hemorrhagic fever, called Lassa fever. Viral hemorrhagic fever is a condition attributed to many different viruses that includes a combination of fever with bleeding of internal organs, under the skin or out of body orifices.

There is also a new, emerging virus in this family called Lujo virus that is a virus classified as a select agent that has so far killed 80% of the people it has infected.Last, but certainly not least, is a virus called lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus. This is a virus that in rare cases is associated with or causes deadly encephalitis and meningitis.

Encephalitis is the inflammation of the brain, and meningitis is the inflammation of the protective layers of tissue covering the brain and spinal cord, called the meninges.

Learning Outcomes

Following this lesson, you’ll be able to:

  • Describe the structure and transmission of viruses in the Arenaviridae family
  • Identify the symptoms associated with Lassa virus, Lujo virus and lymphocytic choriomeningitis
  • Explain the mortality rate and/or prevalence associated with these viruses

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