Web Zap*Germs Archive

December 01, 2005

Fruit Bats: Ebola Virus Incubators?

The NYT reports today that evidence has been found of African fruit bats serving as "reservoirs" for the deadly Ebola virus. The Ebola virus has killed more than 1,200 people in scattered outbreaks in Central Africa since 1976. Scientists have, till now, been unable to find the virus's hiding place in nature.
Now an international team of scientists has found evidence of symptomless Ebola infection in three species of fruit bats, adding to earlier suggestions that they are the likely reservoir.

Working at the International Medical Research Center in Franceville, Gabon, the scientists - from France, South Africa and Thailand - found fragments of the Ebola virus, or evidence of an immune response to it, among bats in Gabon and Congo. Fruit bats are eaten by people in central Africa, according to the report, which is to appear today in the journal Nature.

Although the new findings show that bats may play a role in transmitting the virus to primates and people, more evidence will be needed "to conclude that they are the natural reservoir of the disease," said Maria Cheng, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization in Geneva.


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