Johnston Atoll Virus

Johnston Atoll Virus is directly related to the Lake Chad Virus and the Quaranfil Virus. The viruses share enough of their structure with viruses that cause Influenza, that they are now considered part of a larger family.

Johnston Atoll Virus was first isolated in 1964 from Ornithodores capensis ticks collected from a nest of common noddy terns (Anous stolidus) at Sand Island, Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Johnston Atoll consists of four small man-made islands (or rather man-enlarged) enclosed in an egg-shaped reef approximately 21 miles in circumference, located some 718 miles from Hawaii.
Some years later the virus was also isolated from ticks and birds on South Island (New Zealand), Queensland (Australia) and Hawaii. As Johnston Atoll Virus is closely related to both the Lake Chad Virus and the Quaranfil Virus, which have been isolated from symptomatic humans[1], it has been hypothesized that humans may also be susceptible to infection with Johnston Atoll virus.

The problem scientists have is that, while these three tick-borne viruses must share a common ancestor, there is no known cause and effect that could explain why the Johnston Atoll Virus is found in such faraway places as Australia, New Zealand and some remote islands in the Pacific. No species of birds migrate to and from these places on the globe. A somewhat far-fetched explanation could be that Johnston Atoll was once a secret American facility where bioweapons were tested in the 1960s. Some were released as a fine powder by a jet and carried by the wind past a series of barges. Rhesus monkeys on the barges were severely affected for up to 50 miles. The true scope of the bioweapons tested at Johnston Atoll has never been confirmed by the U.S. military[2].

The isolation of Lake Chad Virus, Quaranfil Virus and Johnston Atoll Virus from ticks and birds in Africa, Central Asia, and the Pacific demonstrates that these viruses can be found over a wide geographic area, so a large fraction of the human population has potential exposure to this group of viruses[3].

[1] Austin: Johnston Atoll virus (Quaranfil group) from Ornithodoros capensis (Ixodoidea: Argasidae) infesting a gannet colony in New Zealand in American Journal of Tropical Medical Hygiene - 1978
[2] Johnson: Infectious Disease and Bioterrorism
[2] Presti et al: Quaranfil, Johnston Atoll and Lake Chad Viruses are Novel Members of the Family Orthomyxoviridae in Journal of Virology - 2009

2 comments:

  1. Is it possible a shorebird like Ruddy Turnstone, Wandering Tattler, or Sanderling carried the virus from Johnston to NZ and other remote atolls?

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  2. One report says that Johnston Atoll virus was isolated from ticks associated with migratory Australasian gannet (Morus serrator). It is Always possible that other migratory species carried the virus from one Island to another.

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