Sierra Leone Bats Host Ebola Virus

MELINDA CHEN / AGGIE

Researchers discover new strain of virus in free-tailed bats in Sierra Leone

A new Ebola virus, the Bombali virus, was found in insectivorous bats roosting in people’s homes in Sierra Leone. This discovery led researchers to believe that bats are the natural hosts of Ebolaviruses.

“Bombali virus is the first full genome of an Ebolavirus to be recovered from a bat, providing strong evidence that bats are a natural reservoir of these viruses,” said Tracey Goldstein, a professor at the One Health Institute at UC Davis. “It also suggests that along with fruit bats, insectivorous bats play an important role in the ecology of Ebola viruses and surveillance efforts should be expanded.”

The Bombali virus is a different strain from the one that caused the 2013-2016 outbreak, which was the Zaire virus. This research revealed that the Bombali virus has the potential to infect human cells and researchers are still trying to determine if it is harmful. In Sierra Leone, the research team worked as part of the PREDICT Ebola Host Project.

The team conducts extensive non-invasive sampling of wildlife and other animals in Sierra Leone, and then conducts testing of these specimens to detect viruses like Ebola and Marburg,” said Brian Bird, a Research Virologist working in the One Health Institute and global lead of the Sierra Leone team. “With this information we can understand their lifecycle and develop better health communications materials to identify exactly which animals may be infected and help the local population to reduce the risks of being exposed to these serious health threats.”

This discovery could lead to more conversations about the Ebola virus.

I hope that now that we, the scientific community, know a little more about this family of viruses that it will further the discussion and knowledge base of this virus and its hosts,” said Brett Smith, a lab manager at the One Health Institute. “We will be able to learn how to prevent future outbreaks. We will have a better understanding as to how humans interact with wildlife. And one day, hopefully, we find a cure.”

 

Written by: Kriti Varghese — science@theaggie.org