Virus warning as ‘rare’ deadly disease that triggers meningitis found in Europe

Experts have warned of a potential new outbreak of a “very rare” disease that is usually fatal and could cause inflammation in the brain. The Express reports that German health authorities have issued a horrific 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 disease originates from the Borna disease virus (BDV) and is an infectious neurological syndrome affecting warm-blooded animals. The disease is very rare, having been detected in humans only a handful of times after it emerged in Germany in the late 1800s.

Local authorities in the country announced on Tuesday that a person in the district of Muhldorf am Inn had been infected. In the Bavarian district, two other cases of the virus affecting humans have been reported in the past three years.

BDV can cause inflammation of the brain after infection, leading to death in almost all cases, while those who survived the virus suffered long-term damage. On average, Germany reports around two infections each year, although experts speculate that the number of unreported cases in the country could be as high as six cases per year.

Borna disease viruses, which come in type one and type two variants, can affect a wide range of mammals besides humans. BDV-1 and BDV-2 have already been detected in horses, cattle, sheep, dogs and foxes.

Patients infected with Borna disease could develop 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, adolescents and young adults”.

Meningitis can be very serious if not treated quickly. It can cause life-threatening blood poisoning (sepsis) and lead to permanent brain or nerve damage.

Fortunately, a number of vaccines are available that may offer some protection against brain disease. Scientists believe that transmission of Borna viruses occurs through intranasal exposure of contaminated saliva or nasal secretions.

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Mary I. Bruner