For decades scientists have discovered that coronaviruses cause illness in the gastrointestinal tract. This most recent research, led by researchers at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital, found that the microscopic organism associated with that virus — the duodenal ulcer virus — also may cause tissue damage when it attacks fat cells.
The research appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The virus, called serotype coronavirus, was first discovered in 1991. It infects humans and can cause serious inflammation in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and bloodstream. Doctors generally recommend anti-viral drugs to help slow the disease’s progress. In rare cases, the virus can cause death.
The duodenal ulcer virus is a member of the coronavirus family that can cause complications similar to tuberculosis. It spreads through fecal-oral contact, and people living in high-risk groups, including community farmers and large numbers of migrants, can be at increased risk. People who carry the virus without symptoms of illness, like the appearance of a sores, viral breakouts or scarring of the intestines, could also be at risk of developing the illness.
The research in this study used the same type of vaccine that has proved effective in fighting tuberculosis: the human attenuated tuberculosis vaccine that is either inactivated or weakened to produce a weakened dose of the virus.
Dr. Reza Lamie, a virologist at MSGH, led the research and told Science Magazine that they found evidence that as the virus spreads through the intestine and travels through the bloodstream, it can start to produce more copies of itself, which can cause further damage to the body. When the viral disease strikes, there are many red blood cells in the body and as the virus multiplies, their number grows. “When the [duodenal ulcer virus] genome is present, it’s bombarding the blood supply” and is causing tissue damage, he said.
Though the scientific community has been fascinated by how virulent and easily available the virus is, much remains unclear about how it spreads from one person to another. Lamie said that while viruses may be able to cross into new regions of the body, he still doesn’t know how they infect.
Read the full story at New England Journal of Medicine.
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