Turn off the bloody Bat-Signal! Bats huge reservoirs of viral disease

Know what sounds like fun? Testing almost 5,000 bats and over 4,000 rodents, from all over the world, for a cadre of viral infections ;)

Im not kidding!

Bats host major mammalian paramyxoviruses

Think about this: Where did, say, measles, come from? How were humans originally infected? Where were they infected? Just because we have a vaccine for the measles that crossed over into humans that works really well-- what if a different version, not susceptible to our vaccine, crosses over again? Can it happen again?

Without understanding a viruses past, you cannot adequately prepare for the future.

And then there is the problem of all of the viruses that remain unseen.

We only see viruses that we are looking for, and we only look for viruses that cause us/our animals/our plants disease. What about all the viruses out there that are benign to us, but cause 'useful' diseases in our enemies (think bacteriaphage vs a multidrug resistant bacteria). What about all the viruses out there that cause non-profitable animals disease... and are a raw-bat-dinner away from becoming the next world-wide pandemic?

How would we know about these viruses unless we take a proactive, rather than reactive, look for them?

Thats what this group of scientists did. They sequenced viruses from a ton of bats and rodents from all around the world and asked 'What exactly are we dealing with, here? What did we find, and what does it mean?'

They found a bunch of Paramyxoviridae.

You all will recognize many names on that list-- From respiratory syncytia virus, to measles and mumps, to distemper, to the common cold, to the not so common nipah virus.

They found variants of these viruses that we already knew about.

And many, many more.

There are 36 'official' Paramyxovirus. These folks found those 36... plus an additional 66 novel Paramyxovirus species.


And interestingly, nipah virus and hendra virus-- two bad-guys causing trouble in Asia and Australia... actually originated in Africa.

The authors suspect that nipah and hendra are causing trouble in Africa too, but because of all the other crap Africa is dealing with, the disease they cause is just going unseen.

But what does this all mean?

Well, viruses crossing over from one species to another happens. When that happened a long time ago, we just think about the viruses just being 'normal' human pathogens. When this happens now they are 'emerging infectious diseases'. There is a huge shadow of 'emerging infectious diseases' out there that we are ignoring by only focusing on the viruses that cause diseases in the here and now.

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Fascinating, thank you. The wikipedia article is pretty scary stuff!

Really neat article, just got to remember that in only two cases did they report the isolation of a virus, the other detected 'species' consisted of about 500 nucleotides of data. But still, what a find. I suspect they will have grown up many more viruses! This is going to cause a headache for all the taxonomists, they can barely agree on the 36!

And one of the reasons that Hendra is killing people in Australia at the moment is that they have declared fruit bats a protected species, so these bats are proliferating and when these protected bats form colonies in the tens of thousands close to human habitation the authorities prosecute anybody who tries to get rid of them.

Hendra is a nasty nasty virus with a fatality rate of 60% in humans.

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 26 Apr 2012 #permalink

A naive question...would it be possible to inocualte animals against viral species that are dangerous to humans, thus making the disease less common among bats?

Perhaps genetic technology could create "benign" versions of those viral species. While spreading among bats it would build up their resistance against human-lethal diseases. If bats are the host species for Ebola, it would make a good starting point.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 27 Apr 2012 #permalink

A naive question...would it be possible to inocualte animals against viral species that are dangerous to humans, thus making the disease less common among bats?

Yes, it's already being done for rabies in foxes and other wild carnivores, but it would be a lot more difficult with insectivorous bats since they're not going to eat vaccine bait. Maybe it could work for fruit bats...

Just put up more wind farms, that'll thin the herd real quick.