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New Hepatitis Virus was False Alarm, Likely a Lab Contaminant

The report by scientists of a new hepatitis virus earlier this year was a false alarm, according to UC San Francisco researchers who correctly identified the virus as a contaminant present in a type of glassware used in many research labs.

Their finding, they said, highlights both the promise and peril of today’s powerful “next-generation” lab techniques that are used to track down new agents of disease.

In research published online on Sept. 11, in the Journal of Virology, researchers led by Charles Chiu, MD, PhD, director of the UCSF Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center, traced the source of the contamination back to tiny diatoms, a type of oceanic algae having nothing to do with human disease.

A scientific team led by researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) first identified the virus as a potential cause of hepatitis in their study of blood samples from 92 people from China who had serious cases of hepatitis not caused by any of the five known hepatitis viruses. Chiu and colleagues discovered the same virus, which they called parvovirus-like hybrid virus (PHV), independently, in a different set of hepatitis patients whose disease was not caused by known viruses.

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