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Monday 28th May 2018

Marburg virus link to bats

11th September 2007

Researchers in Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo have identified traces of the lethal Marburg virus, which is similar to Ebola, in bats.


Scientists found antibodies and genetic material from the Marburg virus, which causes uncontrollable bleeding and kills 85% of those it infects, in the Egyptian fruit bat, leading them to suppose that this species is the only natural reservoir of the virus.

The team, led by Eric Leroy of the Franceville International Medicial Research Centre in Gabon, caught 1,100 bats from 10 different species in the study, which ran from 2005 to 2006.

Children who collected fruit from trees housing bats were the first victims of a 2004 outbreak in Angola.

And an outbreak in 1998–2000 was confined to gold miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo who shared their mine with bats.

The study will help experts define the regions most at risk from Marburg virus more clear. West Africa is an important area of migration for the Egyptian fruit bat.

South African researcher Bob Swanepoel from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases said there was indeed strong evidence that bats were involved but that it was premature to say whether fruit bats were the reservoir for human infections.

Swanepoel said the Democratic Republic of Congo outbreak appeared to be seasonal, and that the virus could be exchanged between insect-eating bats (such as those down the mines) and fruit bats.

The seasonality of the outbreaks could be linked to bat breeding cycles, parasites or changes in insect diet, he said.

He said the most urgent need was to indentify live Marburg virus, which the study had not done.

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