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Bats fingered for Ebola deaths

Central African vector

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Bats could be responsible for spreading Ebola among human and ape populations in central Africa, scientists have claimed in Nature. Three species, all of which "had a geographical range that included regions where human outbreaks of Ebola had occurred", did not show any signs of infection, but offered "genetic evidence or an immune response" as signs of their guilt.

The research, carried out by the International Center for Medical Research in Franceville, Gabon, involved capturing more than 1,000 bats in Ebola-infected areas between 2001 and 2003. Team member Eric Leroy told Nature: "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."

Ebola is transmitted by bodily fluids. People in Ebola-infected zones regularly eat bats, which the researchers believe may partially explain the 240+ dead in 1995 in Democratic Republic of Congo, and several outbreaks between 2001 and 2005 in the same country and in Gabon which accounted for 254 victims. Leroy said: "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."

Ebola kills between 50 and 90 per cent of victims, depending on the strain. According to the WHO, it is characterised by "sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat... often followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding." ®

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