November 30, 2005

Bats may be carriers of Ebola virus: scientists

LONDON (Reuters) - Three species of bats that are eaten by
people in central Africa may be carriers of the Ebola virus
that has killed hundreds of humans and great apes, scientists
said on Wednesday.

Although the bats do not show any evidence of infection,
the International Center for Medical Research in Franceville,
Gabon discovered genetic evidence or an immune response in the
animals, captured during outbreaks between 2001 and 2003.

"We find evidence of asymptomatic infection by Ebola virus
in three species of fruit bat, indicating that these animals
may be acting as a reservoir for this deadly virus," Eric Leroy
and his colleagues said in a report in the science journal

Ebola haemorrhagic fever, which was first identified in
1976, is one of the most virulent viral diseases, according to
the World Health Organization.

It damages blood vessels and can cause extensive bleeding,
diarrhea and shock. The virus killed more than 240 people in
the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1995.

Several outbreaks, which resulted in 254 deaths, occurred
between 2001 and 2005 in Gabon and the Democratic Republic of

The virus is transmitted by infected body fluids and kills
up to 90 percent of victims, depending on the strain. There is
no cure for Ebola.

Leroy and his team captured and tested more than 1,000
animals in Ebola-infected areas of Africa to find possible
reservoirs of infection.

Each of the bat species that showed evidence of the virus
had a geographical range that included regions where human
outbreaks of Ebola had occurred.

The researchers said the findings could help to reduce
infections in both great apes and people.

"Human infection directly from fruit bats might in part be
countered by education, as these animals are eaten by local
populations living in the outbreak regions," Leroy added.