MARBURG, a virus is similar to Ebola which has a 90 percent fatality rate, has been discovered in the west of the continent for the first time, triggering warnings by the US-based Center for Disease Control (CDC) about the danger of an outbreak of the fatal disease.
Scientists have found the virus in Egyptian fruit bats in Sierra Leone – the first time the deadly virus has been found in the region. Five Egyptian rousette fruit bats – which are common throughout Africa – tested positive for active Marburg virus infection. All were caught separately at locations in three health districts: Moyamba, Koinadugu and Kono.
So far there have been no reported cases of people sick with Marburg in Sierra Leone, but the virus’s presence in bats means people nearby could be at risk for contracting Marburg virus, which is related to Ebola and can cause similar, frequently deadly symptoms.
The Marburg virus discovery came through two projects – one led by the CDC in conjunction with Njala University, and another led by the University of California, funded by USAID.
CDC ecologist Jonathan Towner, who led the CDC team, said: “We have known for a long time that rousette bats, which carry Marburg virus in other parts of Africa, also live in West Africa. So it’s not surprising that we’d find the virus in bats there.
“This discovery is an excellent example of how our work can identify a threat and help us warn people of the risk before they get sick.”
Scientists have shown that the Egyptian rousette bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus) is the natural reservoir for Marburg virus, meaning they can carry the virus for a long time without getting sick themselves.
They can then pass it on to humans or other animals through their saliva, urine, or faeces.
Testing of samples from four of the five Marburg-positive bats identified multiple genetically diverse strains, suggesting Marburg virus has been present in the various Sierra Leone bat colonies for many years.
Egyptian fruit bats live in caves or underground mines throughout much of Africa. Marburg virus has been detected in Egyptian rousette bats caught in sub-Saharan Africa, primarily in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but also Gabon, Kenya and South Africa.