Borna virus: you should know this about the disease

Updated on 06/08/2022 at 14:23

  • In the Mühldorf am Inn district of Bavaria, a person has contracted the life-threatening Borna virus.
  • The rare disease is transmitted by field shrews.
  • Here’s what you should know about the disease.

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The Bavarian county of Molddorf am Inn reported a case of the life-threatening Borna virus on Tuesday. According to a statement from the district office, a case has been known from the western part of the district. The office is now in close contact with experts from the Bavarian State Office of Health and Food Safety (LGL). The current state must be considered in research.

In the past three years, two additional cases of Borna virus have occurred in the Moldorf am Inn region. There are only a few cases in Germany each year. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) tells us that “it is assumed that there will be approximately two to six acute illnesses in Germany each year”. According to LGL, seven people in Germany contracted what is known as Borna disease in 2021, five of whom were from Bavaria.

Borna viruses are transmitted by field shrews

According to LGL, the common shrew (Crocidura leucodon) is the only natural reservoir currently known for BoDV-1.

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The so-called Borna Disease Virus 1 (BoDV-1) is the causative agent of Borna disease. The animal disease has been known for more than 250 years, and in humans it leads to acute inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). The Bernhard Nocht Institute of Tropical Medicine (BNITM) reported that human infection with classic Borna virus was first unambiguously demonstrated in 2018. According to current knowledge, the disease is transmitted by field shrews (Crocidura leucodon) through saliva, urine or faeces.

The way viruses are transmitted from mice to humans is not yet clear. As LGL writes, different methods can be visualized. For example, by “taking in the virus through contaminated food or water, or inhaling the virus through contaminated dust, direct contact, or a shrew bite”. The intermediate host can also transmit the virus, such as house cats that hunt shrews. It is considered “highly unlikely” that an infected person will pass the virus on to another person.

The disease leads to death in most cases

“In the majority of cases, the disease leads to death within one to four months after the first symptoms appear,” according to the BNITM. According to the RKI, infection with BoDV-1 may initially be noted with headache, fever, and a general feeling of illness.

In the later course, there are also neurological symptoms such as behavioral problems, speech and gait disturbances, and in extreme cases patients fall into a coma. “There is currently no specific treatment for Bornavirus infection, so treatment consists of supportive measures with intensive care,” writes RKI.

Therefore, prevention is the best solution to avoid infection with the life-threatening virus. This includes, above all, avoiding contact with shrews and their droppings. If you do come into contact with them, it is important to wear rubber gloves and a mouth and nose guard – even with dead mice that have been dragged by a domestic cat. Dead mice should be disposed of in a plastic bag in the trash and contaminated areas should be thoroughly cleaned with household cleaners. After that, taking a good shower and washing your hair will help. Worn clothes should also be washed.

Sources used:

  • “Brochure: Information on how to avoid infection with Borna Disease 1 virus”
  • “The disease was caused by the Borna virus” (07.06.2022).
  • “Illness caused by Borna virus” (as of June 7, 2022)
  • “Encephalitis caused by Bornaviruses (BoDV-1 and VSBV-1)”

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