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New Virus Found in Stillborn Babies

Contact: Cinderella Lee, Public Health Institute Communications, 510-285-5533


OAKLAND, Calif., April 19 /Standard Newswire/ -- A new virus discovered in rodents may cause stillbirths and other diseases in humans, according to a report recently released by the science journal Birth Defects Research.


Prepared by scientists from the California-based Public Health Institute and the Swedish research organization Apodemus, the report reveals evidence that the Ljungan (pronounced "yoon-gun") virus has been found in human stillborns.


More specifically, the international team of researchers discovered the virus in four of 10 stillborns autopsied and five of 10 dissected placentas. The disease was not detected in any of the 20 placentas from normal pregnancies.


The team published these findings in a Birth Defects Research article entitled "The Association of Zoonotic Ljungan Virus with Intrauterine Fetal Deaths." The full report is available online at:


Although the sample size of their study was small due to the difficulties of obtaining stillborn cadavers for such studies, scientists believe that Ljungan virus caused the intrauterine fetal deaths and may be related to other pregnancy-induced problems in humans.


They have drawn this conclusion from the data presented in the Birth Defects Research article and from a growing body of evidence they have collected about the virus since scientists first isolated it in Swedish field mice following an investigation into the sudden deaths of several young Swedish athletes in the 1990s.


Since then, the team has published several scientific papers about the infectious agent.


In an earlier Birth Defects Research article about intrauterine death and fetal malformations in Ljungan-infected mice, they reported that 86 percent of virus-infected pregnant laboratory mice gave birth to dead pups. In contrast, only 14 percent of virus-free dams delivered stillborns.


In a Diabetologia article about the relationship between prenatal Ljungan exposure and glucose intolerance, they found that virus-infected laboratory mice developed diabetes.


The prevalent scientific theory is that diabetes during pregnancy may lead to intrauterine deaths in humans.


"If affected women are carriers of the Ljungan virus, this theory must be reconsidered," says Bo Niklasson, research director of Apodemus. "We show that diabetes and intrauterine fetal deaths are caused by the same viral infection - not one disease being a complication of another."


The international team of scientists also has found the virus in sewer rats of North America. Although these findings have not been published, they suggest that the virus may be widespread.


For all these reasons, the Ljungan virus merits further investigation, the scientists say.


"We are in an early stage," said William Klitz, one of the study's authors and a principal investigator at the Public Health Institute. "But we have some initial, very powerful clues. The Ljungan virus may be the environmental factor we have been waiting for to explain the diseases discussed here."


"Sometimes news of infectious agents gets people very excited and nervous," added Klitz. "Our point is not to raise alarm. It is not the time to buy a mask. It is time to sit down and learn more about this."


The National Institutes of Health and Adopemus provided funding for the research.