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11/4/2008
07:16 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Google Fights Biological Viruses

Google, which works diligently to defend computers from viruses, also is funding efforts to protect people from viruses.

Google, which works diligently to defend computers from viruses, also is funding efforts to protect people from viruses.Last month, four people in Africa died in an outbreak of a previously unknown pathogen.

South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US-CDC) were able to determine that the infectious agent was an arenavirus, not unlike the one that causes Lassa fever.

Subsequent gene sequencing work by Professor Ian Lipkin and colleagues at Columbia University's Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) showed that the arenavirus had not been seen before.

Google.org, Google's philanthropic arm, announced in October that it was supporting CII's work with a $2.5 million grant.

"Arenaviruses, normally transferred to humans through contact with the urine of their rodent hosts, can be classified into New and Old World viruses depending on whether they originate in the Western or Eastern hemisphere respectively," explains Joanne Stevens, an associate with Google.org's Predict & Prevent program, in a blog post. "New World arenaviruses, including Junin, Machupo, Sabia, and Guanarito, can cause viral hemorrhagic fever."

The as-yet-unnamed Old World virus began, according to Stevens, "as a flu-like illness, then caused diarrhea, pharyngitis, and a rash before rapidly culminating in respiratory distress, neurological symptoms and circulatory collapse over a period of about 9-12 days."

Organizing the world's information is nice; keeping the world healthy is even better.

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