NO CAUSE FOR FEAR

Ebola virus found in bat species

The bat was shown to have antibodies towards the virus.

In Summary

• Bat biologist expert Dr Paul Webala from Maasai Mara University, says there is no evidence that the Bombali virus infects human beings.

Dr. Paul Webala from Maasai Mara University in a cave in Taita Hills where he and other researchers discovered an ebola virus in a bat found in the area.
Bat species Dr. Paul Webala from Maasai Mara University in a cave in Taita Hills where he and other researchers discovered an ebola virus in a bat found in the area.
Image: By George Murage

Researchers from three universities have discovered Bombali ebolavirus in a species of bats in Taita Hills. 

They are from Maasai Mara University, University of Nairobi and University of Helsinki.

Bat biologist expert Dr Paul Webala from Maasai Mara University said there was no evidence that the Bombali virus infects human beings.

He said that screening of patients reporting to clinics in the Taita Hills and who have had contact with bats indicated no signs of the virus infection.

He noted that no ebola viruses have been previously reported from wildlife in Kenya or other countries along the east coast of Africa.

“Given the vast distance between Sierra Leone and Kenya and that the bat species involved is not believed to travel large distances, Bombali ebolavirus is likely to be transmitted across its range in much of sub-Saharan Africa,” he said.

The scientist noted that the researchers had recovered high amounts of Bombali ebola virus in bat tissues, including its full genome, confirming that productive infection does occur in this species.

The bat was also shown to have antibodies towards the virus.

In a statement, Dr Webala, who is also the current chairman of Bat Conservation Africa, said that vigilance and ongoing monitoring were important to understand the viral infection and the risks that the virus may pose to human.

“Bats can indeed transmit deadly diseases like rabies to humans, though transmission is exceedingly rare and easily avoided,” he said.

Dr Webala added that five ebola virus species are known, with three of these – Bundibugyo, Sudan and Zaire ebola viruses – associated with large human outbreaks.

“The latter is responsible for the devastating 2013-16 outbreak in West Africa and the ongoing outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” he said.

He said the reservoirs of ebola viruses had remained enigmatic, though fruit bats had been implicated and demonstrated as the reservoir for related Marburg virus.

Webala added that that there was no justification for the killings of bats following the new discovery as doing so would harm efforts to conserve them.

“Previous eviction and culling attempts in response to possible disease outbreaks have backfired and may actually expose humans to potential risks of transmission,” he said.

Dr Webala was however quick to admit that bats could carry diseases transmissible to humans and pointed out to rabies.

He noted that more than 99 per cent of human deaths from rabies occurring in Africa and Asia were caused by infections from carnivores, including domestic dogs.