Joint study finds Oropouche virus as an emerging cause of acute febrile illness in Colombia

A newly published paper in Emerging Microbes & Infections, developed in collaboration between the One-Health Genomic Laboratory of the National University of Colombia, Abbott’s Pandemic Defense Coalition and the UW-Madison Global Health Institute (GHI) has found Oropouche fever virus to be an important cause of febrile illness in several regions of Colombia.  These findings highlight the importance of ongoing disease surveillance and collaborative infectious disease research to support public health.

Over 2019-2022, to monitor emerging pathogens in Colombia, fever studies were set up at clinics and hospitals at four sites in Colombia. The study included 2,967 samples from patients who had observed cases of acute febrile illness (AFI) without an identified infectious cause at sites in Leticia, Villavicencio, Cúcuta and Cali. After testing for multiple pathogens and conducting genomic sequencing, the collaboration of scientists discovered the presence of the Oropouche virus.

“To our surprise, we found a significant seroprevalence of up to 16% of febrile cases caused by the Oropouche virus,” Professor Juan Pablo Hernández-Ortiz, director of the One-Health Laboratory, says.

Oropouche fever is a tropical viral infection transmitted to humans by biting midges and mosquitoes and causes dengue-like symptoms, including high fever, headache, rash and joint pain. It has been found in other parts of South and Central America and can spread quickly, with the potential of epidemic outbreaks.

With knowledge of the pathogen’s emerging circulation, the authors recommend that steps be taken in Colombia to increase testing for Oropouche and to also implement mitigation strategies to lessen exposure and fever spread in key locales like Leticia.

“This study also demonstrates the importance of international cooperation between academic institutions and industry leaders such as Abbott, leading to the improvement of regional capacities for the diagnosis and detection of diseases of public health relevance,” GHI Director Jorge Osorio says.

Abbott, the global healthcare company, launched the Pandemic Defense Coalition in 2021. The Coalition is a first-of-its-kind, 15-member global scientific and public health partnership actively hunting, discovering and researching new and known viral threats around the world to prevent the next pandemic.

“The scientific collaboration on the Oropouche study showcases strategic value and mission of the Abbott Pandemic Defense Coalition. We are actively working across our global network with researchers from Colombia, Africa, Asia to detect, identify and monitor known and little-known pathogens and rapidly respond with scientific insights so that viral threats can be addressed and mitigated to help prevent future pandemics,” Dr. Gavin Cloherty, head of infectious disease research and the Coalition at Abbott, says.

To effectively fight future viral outbreaks, genomic sequencing is critical for studying and monitoring pathogens in Colombia and across the world.

“This work demonstrates the importance of the national network of genomic sequencing and surveillance laboratories, released by the National Institute of Health (INS), where we have made similar efforts to characterize SARS-CoV-2, Monkeypox and other pathogens in our country,” Professor Hernández-Ortiz says.

About UW-Madison Global Health Institute

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Global Health Institute (GHI) works at the intersection of health, equity, and sustainability. Our work is grounded in a global health ethic and the One Health principle that recognize the well-being of humans, animals, and the planet’s ecosystems are inextricably linked. We understand that widening health disparities, emerging diseases, gender inequities, a changing climate and land, water and air pollution threaten all life. GHI is dedicated to unearthing and addressing the complex causes of disease and advancing equitable and sustainable health for all life, landscapes and future generations.