German measles likely jumped from bats to humans, much like COVID, raising concerns about future virus outbreaks

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An estimated 100,000 newborns are affected by the [rubella virus] annually, mostly in Africa, the western Pacific, and the eastern Mediterranean; in many other countries the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine has made it a rarity.

[Tony] Goldberg and his former graduate student Andrew Bennett discovered one of the new viruses [in the same family as rubella] in apparently healthy cyclops leaf-nosed bats, netted at night in Kibale National Park in Uganda. They named it ruhugu virus, after the Ruteete region of Uganda and the local word for bat. The architecture of ruhugu’s genome is identical to that of the rubella virus, and 56% of the amino acids in its eight proteins matched those in rubella. The protein that interacts with the host’s immune cells was almost identical in both viruses.

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As they were getting ready to publish, the researchers learned that a team led by Martin Beer at the Friedrich-Loeffler Institute had detected another rubella relative in brain tissue from a donkey, a kangaroo, and a capybara.

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It’s “really interesting” that rustrela was able to infect both placental and marsupial mammals… That flexibility could spell trouble, says vaccinologist Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic. “Who knows, if it could move from mice to other mammals, could it move to humans?” he asks. “In the end, the bugs win.”

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