Deadly virus linked to fruit bat


Aug 22, 2007

US and Gabonese scientists say a common type of fruit bat could be the source of an outbreak of the deadly Marburg disease in Africa.

The scientists tested more than 1,000 bats caught in caves in Gabon and DR Congo, and found some members of one species were infected with the virus.

Outbreaks of the Marburg disease have hit sub-Saharan Africa in the past.

Marburg is a contagious disease characterised by sudden bleeding and high fever, often ending in death.

The researchers, from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and Centre International de Recherches Medicales de Franceville in Gabon, who are investigating the death of the man from Marburg fever in western Uganda, found that the virus is common in only one species of fruit bat.

Deadly toll

Scientifically known as Rousettus aegypticus, the bat is found across sub-Saharan Africa.

"Identifying Marburg infection in the African fruit bats brings us one step closer to understanding this deadly disease," Eric Leroy, one of the study's authors, told AFP news agency.

Marburg and the related Ebola virus have caused in the past large outbreaks with extremely high mortality rates, 80 to 90%, in humans and great apes.

The largest outbreak of the Marburg disease occurred in 2004-2005 in Angola and killed more than 300 people.

Scientists say that the discovery could lead to better strategies in combating the disease.

Early symptoms of Marburg are diarrhoea, stomach pains, nausea and vomiting, which give way to bleeding. It is spread by the transfer of blood or other bodily fluids.

There is no cure. Infected patients need to be kept in isolation so as to prevent the spread of the virus.