Progress in the experimental therapy of severe arenaviral infections

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Abstract

A number of viruses in the family Arenaviridae cause severe illness in humans. Lassa virus in West Africa and a number of agents in South America produce hemorrhagic fever in persons exposed to aerosolized excretions of the pathogens’ rodent hosts. Because arenaviruses are not transmitted by arthropods, and person-to-person spread is rare, human infections occur singly and sporadically, and are usually not diagnosed until the patient is severely ill. Because the arenaviruses are naturally transmitted by the airborne route, they also pose a potential threat as aerosolized bioterror weapons. The broad-spectrum antiviral drug ribavirin was shown to reduce mortality from Lassa fever, and has been tested against Argentine hemorrhagic fever, but it is not an approved treatment for either disease. Human immune convalescent plasma was proven to be effective for Argentine hemorrhagic fever in a controlled trial. New treatments are needed to block viral replication without causing toxicity and to prevent the increased vascular permeability that is responsible for hypotension and shock. In this paper, we review current developments in the experimental therapy of severe arenaviral infections, focusing on drugs that have been tested in animal models, and provide a perspective on future research.

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