Marburg Virus, Cousin of Ebola, Discovered in West African Bats

Marburg, a virus related to Ebola, has been found in fruit bats in Sierra Leone, West Africa, marking its first ever discovery in the region.

The finding becomes crucial considering Marburg’s 90 percent fatality rate in its biggest known outbreak in Angola in 2004, where over 250 people were infected.

As part of the US-led effort to identify dangerous pathogens in animals that can cause outbreaks among humans (a project termed ‘Predict’), two teams of researchers studied samples from five bats caught in three health districts, all of which tested positive for the virus.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with Njala University of Sierra Leone, and University of California, Davis with University of Makeni, Sierra Leone, carried out the two respective researches.

Project ‘Predict’ is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

According to the Daily Express, scientists have established that the Egyptian rousette fruitbat are natural reservoirs for Marburg virus, allowing them to carry the virus for a long time without getting harmed themselves.

Although no case of the virus has been reported from Sierra Leone yet, these bats can easily pass it on to humans and other animals through their saliva, urine or faeces.

Notably, fruit bats are found in West and South Africa, and even in Pakistan and northern India. Genetic testing of the five Marburg-positive bats revealed multiple strains of the virus in each, suggesting the bats have been present in West Africa since many years.

The virus can have as lethal and deadly consequences as its relative Ebola.

CDC ecologist Jonathan Towner, who led the CDC team, said,

"We have known for a long time that rousette bats, which carry Marburg virus in other parts of Africa, also live in West Africa. So it’s not surprising that we’d find the virus in bats there. This discovery is an excellent example of how our work can identify a threat and help us warn people of the risk before they get sick."

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