Virus outbreak warning as ‘rare’ fatal disease that triggers meningitis detected in Europe

Meningitis: Dr Ranj explains signs and symptoms in 2019

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Health authorities in Germany have issued a horrifying warning as a new case of a very rare disease known as Borna disease has been detected. Also known as sad horse disease, this fatal illness comes from the Borna Disease Virus (BDV) and is an infectious neurological syndrome affecting warm-blooded animals. Local authorities in the country announced on Tuesday a person from the district of Mühldorf am Inn was infected.

The disease, while extremely fatal, is very rare, only previously detected in humans a handful of times after it originated in Germany in the late 1800s.

In the Bavarian district, two other cases of the virus affecting humans were reported over the past three years.

The BDV can cause an inflammation of the brain after infection, leading to death in almost all cases, while those who did survive the virus were left to suffer long term damage.

On average Germany reports about two infections every year, although experts assume that the number of unreported cases in the country could go as high as up to six cases per year.

According to the Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety (LGL), seven infections of Borna disease were reported throughout Germany in 2021, with five of them in Bavaria.

Borna disease viruses, which come in type 1 and type 2 variants, can affect a wide host of mammals aside from humans.

BDV-1 and BDV-2 have been previously detected in horses, cattle, sheep, dogs and foxes.

In 1995, researchers were able to isolate the BDV-1 from cats in Sweden who suffered from a “staggering disease”, after which the disease was also detected in cats in Japan and the UK.

Patients infected with Borna disease could end up with meningitis, which is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord.

According to the NHS, Meningitis “can affect anyone, but is most common in babies, young children, teenagers and young adults.

“Meningitis can be very serious if not treated quickly.

“It can cause life-threatening blood poisoning (septicaemia) and result in permanent damage to the brain or nerves.”

Fortunately, a number of vaccinations are available which can offer some protection against the brain disease.

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Scientists believe the transmission of Borna viruses occurs through the intranasal exposure of contaminated saliva or nasal secretions.

The disease was named after the city of Borna in Germany, where an epidemic of the disease, mainly affecting sheep and horses during the late 1800s crippled the Prussian cavalry.

In infected humans, experts have found some links to the infection and psychiatric disease.

In 1990, researchers discovered that antibodies to a protein that was encoded by the BDV-1 genome were found in the blood of patients with behavioural disorders.

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg.

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