Deadly Marburg virus found in bats in Sierra Leone

Friday December 21 2018

Health experts bury a Marburg victim on October 26, 2017 in Kween District, Uganda.

Health experts bury a Marburg victim on October 26, 2017 in Kween District, Uganda. PHOTO | JOYCE CHEMUTAI | DAILY MONITOR 

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Scientists in Sierra Leone have found fruit-eating bats infected with the deadly Marburg virus, the health ministry said Thursday.

This is the first instance that the haemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola has been detected in West Africa.

According to the statement by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the bats caught in three districts -- Moyamba in the South, Koinadu in the North, and Kono in the East -- tested positive for the Marburg virus.

The tests were carried out by two teams of researchers. One group was based at the Njala University sponsored by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the other a joint study by University of Makeni and University of California, Davis under the Predict Research.

The scientists say the Egyptian rousette fruit bat is the same type of bat linked to Marburg outbreaks in East and southern Africa.

“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,” CDC ecologist Jonathan Towner said in a statement.

In the continent, Angola suffered the worst Marburg epidemic in 2005 after 90 percent of the 252 infected people died. Other Marburg outbreaks have also been reported in Uganda, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Africa.

The Sierra Leone Health ministry stressed Thursday that there has been no case of infection of humans reported.

The latest discovery comes just five months after Predict Research scientists found a new strain of the Ebola virus in bats in the northern Bombali region.

The Predict Research is designed to monitor wildlife specimens for known pathogens in the wake of the West African epidemic.

The region is still recovering from the world's deadliest Ebola outbreak between 2014 and 2016 that killed more than 11,300 people in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

“The finding of the Marburg virus before it has made people sick shows the hard work Sierra Leone is doing to learn about sicknesses in animals before they spread to people and how best to live with the animals safely,” the Health ministry said.

Marburg virus transmission occurs through contact with infected body fluids and tissue that the bats shed when eating fruits. Human-to-human infections also occur in the same way.

Signs and symptoms include headache, muscle pains, vomiting blood and bleeding through various orifices.