Center for Tropical Diseases, Department of Pathology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Special Pathogens Branch, Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Instituto Nacional de Higiene Rafael Rangel, Ciudad Universitaria, Ministerio de Sanidad y Asistenicia Social, Region Sanitaria del Estado Portuguesa, Universidad Nacional Experimental de Los Llanos Occidentales Ezequiel Zamora, Galveston, Texas, Georgia
Specific rodent species are principal hosts for each of the well-characterized members of the virus family Arenaviridae. Guanarito virus (Arenaviridae) is the etiologic agent of Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever. A previous study on the epidemiology of Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever revealed extensive arenavirus infection (presumed to be caused by Guanarito virus) in two rodent species, Sigmodon alstoni and Zygodontomys brevicauda, collected from the region of Venezuela in which the disease is endemic. In the present study, four arenavirus isolates recovered from the Municipality of Guanarito (two isolates each from S. alstoni and Z. brevicauda) were characterized to learn more about the natural rodent host relationships of Guanarito virus. Serologic tests and analyses of nucleocapsid protein gene sequence data indicated that the two isolates from Z. brevicauda are strains of Guanarito virus and that the two isolates from S. alstoni are representatives of a novel New World arenavirus (proposed name Pirital) that is antigenically and phylogenetically distinct from all known New World arenaviruses. The results of the present study provide further evidence that the cane mouse Z. brevicauda is a natural host of Guanarito virus and suggest that the cotton rat S. alstoni is the natural reservoir host of Pirital but not Guanarito virus.