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First Known Rubella Virus Relatives Found In Uganda, Germany


  • Scientists discovered two viruses related to the rubella virus in animals
  • The findings suggest that rubella virus possibly originated in animals
  • Researchers are now trying to determine whether the rubella vaccine could be effective in all three viruses

Two research teams have found the first known relatives of the rubella virus. The findings provide clues regarding the origin of the virus, which has remained a mystery for years.

Rubella, also known as German measles, is a contagious disease caused by an airborne virus that has been known to be the only member of its virus family. It had not been found in animals. Although rubella disease was first described in 1814 and the rubella virus was first isolated in 1962, the actual origin of the virus and the disease remained a mystery.

Most people who get infected by the virus experience mild symptoms such as a low-grade fever, sore throat and a rash that starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body.

Although the symptoms are generally mild, the virus can be particularly worrisome for pregnant women because it can cause a miscarriage or lead babies to have birth defects such as heart problems, spleen damage or loss of eyesight, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says.

Rubella has largely been eradicated, thanks to the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. However, a new study published in the journal Nature describes two rubella relatives found in two different places: Germany and Uganda. 

“Here we describe ruhugu virus and rustrela virus in Africa and Europe, respectively, which are, to our knowledge, the first known relatives of rubella virus,” the researchers wrote in their study, for which the two teams collaborated.

The two teams were working on separate projects and neither was looking for rubella when they discovered the virus’ relatives. The team in Uganda was actually looking for coronaviruses in bats prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, while the team in Germany was trying to find out what killed several animals at a German zoo.

The team in Uganda found the virus, named ruhugu virus, in the oral swabs collected from leaf-nosed bats. The team in Germany found the other rubella relative, now called rustrela virus, in acutely encephalitic animals in a zoo and also in wild yellow-necked field mice.

Between the two viruses, ruhugu appears to be the closer relative, with just one amino acid difference from rubella, while rustrela has several amino acid differences.

The teams found the new viruses in nearly half of the bats and mice they tested, suggesting that animals can be carriers of the virus without getting sick and that the rubella virus we know possibly originated in animals.

“There is no evidence that ruhugu virus or rustrela virus can infect people, yet if they could, it might be so consequential that we should consider the possibility,” said Tony L. Goldberg, study co-author and professor of epidemiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) School of Veterinary Medicine, in

Uganda reports blood shortages amid coronavirus pandemic

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Health authorities in Uganda say the supply of blood has sharply declined since the start of the coronavirus pandemic as fewer people donate and schools remain closed. The consequences are sometimes deadly.

Students, especially those in secondary school, are the largest group of blood donors in the East African country but schools have been closed since March amid efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

This means the government agency charged with collecting blood is failing to meet its targets.

Dr. Emmanuel Batiibwe, the director of a hospital that looks after many of the poorest residents of the capital, Kampala, cited multiple deaths there in recent months related to blood shortages.

One victim was a woman with pregnancy complications. Children under 5 and patients going into surgery are also among those frequently in need of a blood transfusion, he said.

In July, Batiibwe’s China-Uganda Friendship Hospital received only 18 of a requisitioned 218 units of blood. The next month 68 of 217 units came in, he said.

“There’s a problem somewhere,” he said, calling the shortage a “disaster.”

The head of Uganda Blood Transfusion Services, Dr. Dorothy Byabazaire, told lawmakers earlier this year that her agency collected 56,850 units of a targeted 75,000 between April and July.

Facilities across the country submit blood orders to the agency, and there is a sharing mechanism among facilities in the event of emergencies. But “borrowing” blood can be time-consuming, Batiibwe said.

The Uganda Red Cross, which helps authorities to mobilize blood donors, said it hasn’t been easy to recruit donors during the pandemic. The country has confirmed more than 8,600 coronavirus cases, including 79 deaths.

“People don’t feed well anymore. People are stressed,” said spokeswoman Irene Nakasiita, adding that some willing, potential donors are turned away because their blood levels are too low.

Similar challenges were echoed by Ariho Franco, a donor recruiter for a blood bank operated by Kampala’s private Mengo Hospital, who said that while schools are closed they are focusing on public places. They have set up tents in locations such as the public square in central Kampala. Donors receive soda and cookies.

“The blood shortage is a serious problem because the few people who are out there that we are able to reach are unable to donate due to various reasons,” Franco said.

He said blood collection teams are facing challenges in finding donors among communities reeling from the economic impacts of the pandemic. Some people say they are not sure where their next meal will come from, he said.

“At the end of the day some people may only survive by the mercy of God since the little blood that will have been collected will only be reserved for serious emergencies,” he said.

Blood shortages have been reported elsewhere, including in parts of Europe.

Local media in Romania have cited fear of COVID-19 infections among the reasons for a decline in the number of blood donors. The cities of Iasi and