IRD researchers have succeeded in the first identification of bats as a potential natural reservoir of Ebola virus. Several epidemics of haemorrhagic fever have raged in the Republic of Congo and Gabon since 2001, hitting both humans and primates simultaneously. The virus transmission route from great apes to humans was already known, yet neither the natural reservoir nor the means of prior viral transmission to these primates had hitherto been identified.
Today scientists from the IRD and the CIRMF (1) are publishing in the journal Nature a study on small vertebrates captured near carcasses of infected primates. The research team detected specific Ebola virus antibodies in the serum of three species of tropical fruit bats. And revealed the presence of viral genome fragments in the liver and spleen of these vertebrates. Observations indicated that the large primates become contaminated directly by contact with these bats. These results are an essential element for understanding Ebola virus’s cycle in its natural environment and could prove decisive for the prevention of human Ebola virus epidemics.
Ebola virus (of the Filoviridae family) was first identified in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (ex- Zaire). It has been the source of several lethal epidemics in central Africa. Four subtypes exist, three of which rage on the African continent. The zaire subtype, the most dangerous for humans, was responsible for eight epidemics which have hit Gabon and the Republic of Congo since 1995. Infection by this subtype in humans is expressed by a violent haemorrhagic fever which in 80 % of cases kills the victim in a few days. There has been a succession of 14 epidemics of Ebola in Africa since 1976. Ten of which were caused by the zaire sub-type, generating 1850 cases resulting in 1300 deaths.
Sophie Nunziati | alfa
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