This unknown virus attacks the liver: 5 questions about HCirV-1, a novel circovirus identified in a woman in France


French scientists have identified a circovirus in humans for the first time. Here’s what we know and what to remember about this new virus.

French scientists from several research institutions reported in the journal on January 3, 2023 Emerging Infectious Diseases Identification of the first hitherto unknown circovirus in humans. be baptized Human circovirus 1 (HCirV-1), Here’s what we know about this virus that specifically affects the liver.

What is circovirus?

Circoviruses are naked circular single-stranded DNA viruses.They are the smallest known to affect vertebrates“. Marc Eloit is like that, Head of the Pathogen Discovery Laboratory at the Institut Pasteur and professor of virology at the National Veterinary Academy in Alfort (EnvA) has defined a circovirus. He was one of the authors of the first published study on HCirV-1.

Circoviruses commonly affect animals, causing respiratory, kidney and even reproductive problems. “In pigs, they are very common. One of them is highly pathogenic and the vaccine is widely used”, explains Marc Eloit. In 1974, the first circovirus was also found in pigs. “Viruses of this family are also common in other species, such as birds,” the researchers noted.

How was it discovered?

The first circovirus to affect humans was identified in a 61-year-old patient. Seventeen years ago, she had a double heart and lung transplant and was on immunosuppressive therapy, which made it easier to identify circovirus. “In immunocompromised people, viral infections are easier to recognize than in others”, confirms Marc Eloit, before stating that “this could be the first sign of a virus, which we can then study in a more general population”.

Does circovirus seriously affect humans?

“The identification of circoviruses in humans does not indicate a serious or new emergence”, assures Marc Eloit. Especially since the virus has been around for many years, in different forms, and this patient probably wasn’t the first to be infected; only the first place where this circovirus was definitively identified. “We may just be highlighting a virus that has been around for a long time but has been overlooked,” concluded the co-authors of the first study.

He noted the need to distinguish between “new” viruses and viruses “that we have discovered”, recalling that circoviruses have existed in the past.even though Human circovirus 1 Very different from those of animal origin.

How is it related to hepatitis?

When the patient was analyzed, her constants showed hepatitis with no clear cause. According to the Pasteur Institute, “Virus proliferates in hepatocytes, demonstrating a role for HCirV-1 in liver injury“. The tools developed to determine the presence of this circovirus will help to better identify hepatitis. There are many unexplained cases of hepatitis. We have also received requests to access a diagnostic tool (PCR) developed for this virus.“, Marc Eloit explains.

Should we worry about its possible spread?

“We don’t yet know whether it is a virus that poses a risk to the non-immunocompromised general population”, asserts Marc Eloit. This virus has only been discovered recently, and a lot of research needs to be done to better detect it. To date, several questions remain unanswered, such as whether it arose from infection in animals or whether it was transmitted in humans.

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