Bats may hold henipavirus threat for W Africa: study

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According to a report by AFP, A family of lethal viruses that has

leapt from bats to humans in Australia and Asia may also pose a threat

in West Africa, where bats are butchered for meat, scientists reported


Known as henipavirus, the family has two main members, Hendra and

Nipah, which came to notoriety in the 1990s.

They have been blamed for rare but worrying outbreaks of encephalitis

and respiratory illness among domestic animals and humans in remote

Australia, south and southeast Asia.

Like Ebola, henipavirus has a natural reservoir in fruit bats, which

are immune to the virus but can pass it on to humans who come into

contact with their blood, saliva or droppings.

In some henipavirus episodes, mortality rates have been greater than 90 percent.

Reporting in the journal Nature Communications, scientists said they

suspect henipavirus may be making a similar bats-to-humans jump in

west Africa.

The evidence, based on field work in Cameroon, is only preliminary but

should serve as a warning, they said.

"Our study found the first evidence — written in the immune cells of

people living in our African study area — that humans have been

exposed to henipaviruses," said Benhur Lee, a microbiologist at the

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

The work entailed scanning blood samples from 44 fruit bats and 497

people living in 13 rural locations across southern Cameroon.

The goal was to look for antibodies — first-line defenders made by

the immune system in response to a microbial intruder — that were

specific to the henipavirus family or a close relative.

If so, this would show that the bat or the person had at some point

been infected by henipavirus or henipa-like virus.

It was not, though, an indicator of whether they had fallen sick, or

could fall sick, from it.

The team found that 48 percent of bat samples showed the telltale

response to infection.

Of the 497 human samples, 227 came from people who said they had

previous contact with bats, of whom three to four percent had antibody

traces in their blood.

Most of them had butchered bats for meat, or lived in deforested areas

in close proximity to bats.

– Cause of illness? –

The research was not designed to probe whether anyone had fallen ill

from the henipavirus in Cameroon.

The findings threw up two possibilities, the scientists said.

One is that this version of the virus may not be as deadly as those

found in past Asian-Australian outbreaks.

The other is that the virus may have been a hidden cause of

encephalitis in remote villages, or caused fevers that were

misdiagnosed as malaria, yellow fever or typhoid.

Further investigation is needed, but authorities should take note, Lee said.

"The tragedy of Ebola, which also jumped into humans from bats in

Africa, argues that we must heighten our surveillance of viruses on

the verge of spillover from animals into humans.

"HIV, SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] and West Nile virus

were also unknown until they emerged."

Ebola has killed more than 5,100 people and infected about 14,500

since it emerged in Guinea in December, according to the World Health

Organization (WHO).

Kofi Oppong Kyekyeku

I am a Ghanaian Broadcast Journalist/Writer who has an interest in General News, Sports, Entertainment, Health, Lifestyle and many more.

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