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Santa Cruz, Bolivia, May 21, 2012 (PAHO / WHO) - Two laboratory experts visit the National Center for Tropical Diseases in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, with the aim of providing technical cooperation for the molecular diagnosis of Bolivian hemorrhagic fever.

This mission, taking place between 21 and 25 May, has been coordinated by the Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization (PAHO / WHO) in collaboration with Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) partners.

The team of experts will provide practical training in developing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for the diagnosis of Bolivian hemorrhagic fever, using reagents with high specificity and sensitivity that were designed at the University of Texas Medical Division.

Bolivian hemorrhagic fever, caused by the Machupo virus, is a viral hemorrhagic fever and zoonotic infectious disease in Bolivia. Viral infection has slow onset with fever, malaise, headache and muscle and joint pain. As it progresses, petechiae appear in the upper body, as do nosebleeds and boils. The mortality rate is between 5 and 30%. The vector is the Calomys callosus, a rodent native of the north of Bolivia, which expels the virus in its excreta through which humans get infected. It can also be transmitted human-to-human.

As there is no vaccine yet against this disease, early diagnosis is important so that appropriate treatment may be initiated, consisting of the use of antiviral ribavirin and the administration of human immune plasma with Machupo virus neutralizing antibodies. Two years ago, an immune plasma bank was created in Bolivia with the technical cooperation of PAHO and the WHO Collaborating Center, the National Institute of Human Viral Diseases Dr. Julio I. Maiztegui.

Use of high sensitivity and specificity laboratory techniques, is a useful tool in reducing mortality rates caused by this disease, as they provide a differential diagnosis during outbreaks, facilitate the early administration of human immune plasma and guide the necessary institutional response.

In 2012, about 45 suspected cases, two of which were laboratory confirmed, were reported. In May this year, two suspected cases were reported, however, preliminary lab results were negative, despite the clinical diagnosis. The disease was first identified in 1959 during an outbreak in isolated communities in eastern Bolivia.