Vietnam is once again getting a report of a deadly virus; and it’s a coronavirus that’s killed some 360 people in East Asia since 2002. This time it’s a coronavirus from Saudi Arabia that scientists call “Naegleria fowleri”, meaning “water spout” in Hawaiian. Like other coronaviruses, it’s an animal reservoir, meaning this kind of virus tends to thrive in drinking water.
Sadly, this is not the first time this deadly mosquito-borne virus has hit Vietnamese people in recent months. Yet despite the multiple cases that have occurred in Vietnam, scientists are still unclear about exactly what prompted the latest outbreak of the killer disease.
What’s Keeping It Alive?
The new outbreak of naegleria fowleri in Vietnam began in May, when health authorities at Ho Chi Minh City’s Soufrihan National University detected a laboratory-confirmed case. This most recent outbreak of the deadly virus has produced at least a dozen cases, out of more than 200 patients in Ho Chi Minh City alone.
This most recent study, published in Microbiome, finds that, prior to the start of the outbreak, there were approximately 35 cases of the deadly virus per year in Ho Chi Minh City. To assess just how common this virus is in the region, microbial experts from the Urban Health Institute studied 20 years’ worth of patient samples in Ho Chi Minh City and Hong Kong to study the transmission and pathogenesis of the virus.
The researchers found that 68 percent of Naegleria fowleri patients that caught the virus from drinking contaminated drinking water were infected with the virus in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam before coming to the United States to receive care.
The origin of this virus, the researchers say, is likely the Dangrek river in Philippines, which the virus has been detected in as early as 2003.
It’s Finally a Virus
Although the origin of the virus in the Philippines is still unknown, the researchers say that it’s now an active pathogen, infecting humans in previously uncontaminated places in Southeast Asia.
This is not too surprising, as the coronavirus is a familiar illness, and has even been imported to the United States by people returning from Southeast Asia in the past.
In 2014, the virus was first confirmed in a healthy American citizen who had returned from Southeast Asia. Less than two years later, a second person was diagnosed with the virus in the United States, and later tested positive for the virus.
In both instances, the virus is considered asymptomatic, so the person caught the virus after visiting Southeast Asia. (The diagnosis is complicated by the fact that each person also shows symptoms of an unrelated condition, including probable meningitis.)