In separate tests that looked for actual virus in the blood, rather than antibodies, 5 percent of blood samples from normal donors showed Vesivirus. Among persons with evidence of liver damage, researchers found 11 percent had Vesivirus-contaminated blood.
"This study clearly demonstrates that both Vesivirus and the antibodies against it are fairly common in humans," said Alvin Smith, a professor of veterinary medicine at OSU and one of the world’s leading experts on caliciviruses. "Vesivirus is widely distributed in many animal species, but this is a previously unrecognized relationship between Vesivirus and humans."
"This research also shows an increasing prevalence of Vesivirus antibody in persons who have hepatitis of unknown cause," Smith said. "This suggests there is a broader potential for Vesivirus infection and illness in humans than previously recognized."
Previous individual case reports have documented human disease with Vesivirus, said Dr. David O. Matson, a co-author on the study and physician at Eastern Virginia Medical School. "This study adds to our knowledge of the potential for Vesivirus illness in humans, a potential as-yet unstudied by others," Matson said.
There are assays available to test for Vesivirus infection or antibodies, researchers say, that have been developed at OSU and licensed to private industry.
"AVI BioPharma has investigated their proprietary NeuGene antisense as an anti-Vesiviral treatment, and is currently conducting further research and development," said Patrick Iversen, a co-author on the study and senior vice president of research and development at the company.
Researchers say that Vesivirus has natural reservoirs in the marine community where it can replicate and recycle, infecting and sometimes causing health problems in seals, sea lions, whales, and perhaps fish, shellfish and other species. In general, the marine environment is "a relatively under-explored potential reservoir of human pathogens," the researchers said in their study.
History suggests these viruses have rarely been confined to the ocean. A costly Vesivirus epidemic in hogs first was identified in 1932, and was found to be linked to uncooked fish and pork scraps fed to hogs. It’s now known that that the same types of Vesiviruses – named in part for the disease they can cause in hogs, vesicular exanthema of swine - are found in many other species.
In a research article published in January in the American Journal of Veterinary Research, the same scientists found that 15 percent of the dairy and beef cattle in eight western states had antibodies to Vesivirus, with antibody prevalence in various herds ranging from zero to 80 percent. It concluded that Vesivirus infection in cattle is widespread, and in various studies has been "associated" – identified to be statistically relevant but not yet proven as a cause - with abortion, diarrhea, severe respiratory disease and vesicular disease.
In another study to be published soon, a population of Thoroughbred mares on horse farms in Kentucky, which was having an unusually high level of spontaneous abortions, was also found to have 81 percent positive testing for Vesivirus antibodies – far higher than a normal population.
Because of its endemic nature and prevalence, possible sources of Vesivirus infection in humans could include meat, seafood, contaminated water, contact exposure and blood transfusions, researchers say. Evidence suggests that Vesiviruses and other disease-causing caliciviruses are world wide, they said.
Alvin Smith | EurekAlert!
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