A software developer from Houston, Texas has become the first human to contract a computer virus, microbiologists have confirmed.
John Newman, an employee of vTouch Systems, came into contact with the virus through the use of a neural interface that his company is developing.
Avril DuChamps, a spokesperson for vTouch Systems, confirmed yesterday at a press conference that Newman had come down with the virus. All activities at vTouch have been suspended until further notice.
The virus, which has subsequently been identified as a variant of the W32.0401.Worm computer virus, appears to copy itself by exploiting a protocol vulnerability in the electroencephalogram neural link that vTouch Systems is developing to connect a human brain with external devices.
The virus is also unique in that it has the flexibility to toggle its reproductive code based on the medium in which it resides. Originally programmed in C++, it can shift to RNA-based replication once in an organic substrate.
While relatively harmless in the digital realm, W32.0401.Worm has caused some health problems for Newman, who is suffering from a mild fever and severe diarrhea.
Expected to happen
"We knew that something like this was eventually going to happen," says Charles Kane, a researcher with antivirus company SterileData. "We just didn't think it was going to happen so soon."
Kane, who tracks new computer viruses for SterileData, found himself in the unlikely situation of having to consult with microbiologists at the US Centres for Disease Control.
"They were just as shocked we were," he says. "But they quickly came to the same conclusions that we did, and they were of great assistance to us in quickly isolating and identifying the new pathogen."
It is unlikely that the virus can be transmitted from human to human, but researchers are not taking chances.
Newman is currently being held in quarantine at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston. Doctors monitoring his condition expect a full recovery.