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Study Questions Discovery of 'New' Hepatitis Virus

Contaminated lab glassware caused confusion, researchers say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 2 (HealthDay News) -- A reported discovery earlier this year of a new hepatitis virus was a false alarm, and the "virus" was actually a contaminant present in a type of glassware used in many research laboratories, a new study contends.

The findings highlight both the promise and drawbacks of powerful "next-generation" lab techniques used to identify new causes of disease, the University of California, San Francisco researchers said.

The new hepatitis virus was first identified by a scientific team led by researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health after they analyzed blood samples from 92 people in China who had serious cases of hepatitis not caused by any of the five known hepatitis viruses.

In separate research, Dr. Charles Chiu and colleagues at UCSF discovered the same virus -- called parvovirus-like hybrid virus (PHV) -- in a different set of hepatitis patients whose disease did not appear to be caused by known viruses.

However, further investigation by Chiu's team revealed the true nature of the supposedly new hepatitis virus.

"At first we thought this was a genuine hepatitis virus, but later we found it in data sets from patients with many other diseases and even from animals," Chiu, a professor of laboratory medicine and director of the UCSF Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center, said in a UCSF news release.

They determined that the new virus was actually due to contamination of a certain type of lab glassware when it was made. The contaminant was tiny diatoms, a type of oceanic algae that plays no role in human disease, according to the study recently published in the Journal of Virology.

This episode shows the importance of repeating experiments with good controls to ensure that results are accurate, Chiu said.

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