Arenaviruses infect mostly rodents but occasionally people, and can cause fatal hemorrhagic diseases like Lassa fever, which kills thousands of people every year in Africa. There is no evidence, however, that a snake has ever transmitted an arenavirus infection to a person despite the fact that snake owners and veterinarians handle infected snakes all the time, said DeRisi.
Three Snakes That Shook the World
For years, many experts have hypothesized that a virus or some other infectious pathogen might cause inclusion body disease because of evidence that it spreads easily from snake to snake. No definitive cause has been identified until now, and the discovery may never have occurred if not for a random sequence of events, including cases of inclusion body disease in an aquarium collection, a friendly DNA sequencing competition among scientists, a postdoctoral researcher who was looking for a project, and a snake owner worried about her favorite pet.
The story began with a snake named Larry, and his owner, Taryn Hook of San Jose, California. Before Larry, Hook had lost two snakes to inclusion body disease, and, in early 2009, she became convinced Larry had it as well. He was developing bacterial infections similar to what Hook had seen with her two other snakes. Knowing there was no treatment or cure, she was desperate to find anyone who might save her snake.
Hook took Larry to see the exotic pet veterinarian Chris Sanders, DVM, owner of the nearby Wildwood Veterinary Hospital. Sanders had just attended a conference at which he had heard DeRisi talking about his Virochip DNA microarray technology and its ability to identify viruses, fungi and other pathogensincluding at least one exotic pet disease, a mysterious parrot viruswhen no other gene probing technology could. The parrot virus was discovered by DeRisi and Don Ganem, MD, a
|Contact: Jennifer O'Brien|
University of California - San Francisco