New findings indicate that fruit bats in Bangladesh are harboring a new version of Ebola virus, which causes severe hemorrhagic fever.
The study by EcoHealth Alliance, a non profit organisation that focuses on local conservation and global health issues, extends the range of this lethal disease further than previously suspected to now include mainland Asia. The virus was first detected in Congo.
"Research on filoviruses in Asia is a new frontier of critical importance to human health, and this study has been vital to better understand the wildlife reservoirs and potential transmission of Ebola virus in Bangladesh and the region," said Kevin Olival, senior research scientist at EcoHealth Alliance, who led the study, the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases reported.
Ebola virus is one of two members of a family of RNA viruses called the Filoviridae.
Filoviruses are zoonotic pathogens (diseases transmitted from animals to humans) that cause lethal hemorrhagic symptoms among humans and non-human primates with fatality rates up to 80 percent, according to a EcoHealth statement.
Natural reservoirs of filoviruses have remained elusive for decades but current literature suggests that bats may be the primary natural hosts of the Ebola virus.
"Bats tend to have a bad reputation and that's unfortunate since they provide services that are vital for maintaining healthy eco-systems," said Jonathan Epstein, study co-author and associate vice president at EcoHealth Alliance.
"The next step is to determine whether this Ebola virus is actually causing disease in people, and if so, work to develop strategies that reduce contact with bats to protect human health, without harming bats," added Epstein.