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Press Release

For Immediate Release: July 31, 2009
Contact: Division of News & Electronic Media, Office of Communication
(404) 639-3286

Scientists Successfully Isolate Marburg Virus from African Fruit Bats

A team of scientists reported today the successful isolation of genetically diverse Marburg viruses from a common species of African fruit bat (Egyptian fruit bat, Rousettus aegyptiacus). A paper published in the open-access science journal PLoS Pathogens provides new insight into the identity of the natural host of this deadly disease.

Infection with Marburg virus and the related Ebola virus can produce severe disease in people, with fever and bleeding. During outbreaks, as many as 90 percent of those infected have died.  The natural reservoir for Marburg virus, and its cousin Ebola virus, has been the subject of much speculation and scientific investigation.

The study provides the strongest evidence to date of the species' capacity to host Marburg virus. While previous investigations have found antibodies to Marburg virus and virus genetic fragments in bats, the recent study goes significantly further by isolating actual infectious virus directly from bat tissues in otherwise healthy-appearing bats. The new study shows unambiguously that this bat species can carry live Marburg virus. In addition, this study identifies a genetic link between the viruses carried in bats and the viruses found in sick workers in the mine colonized by the bats.

Genetic sequences of Marburg viruses obtained from the infected bats exhibit broad genetic diversity, suggesting that Marburg infection in Egyptian fruit bats is not a recent phenomenon. R. aegyptiacus isgenerally cave-dwelling and widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa.

Many caves and mines are inhabited by large populations of R. aegyptiacus. Caves, as popular tourist attractions, and active mines can invite potential close contact between bats and humans. By identifying the natural source of this virus, appropriate public health resources can be directed to prevent future outbreaks. Additionally, the study takes scientists one step closer to identifying the reservoir host for Ebola virus.


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