The terrifying hemorrhagic fever known as Ebola virus, or one of its relatives, seems to have made its way into Asia, specifically Bangladesh, a new report indicates.Ebola Zaire, the deadly version of the virus, was previously only known to exist in Africa, where it was discovered in 1976. In 2012, an outbreak killed dozens of people in Africa.
Related, less dangerous, strains of Ebola-related virsues have been seen in monkeys in other areas of the world. Ebola Reston was found in monkeys in labs around the world, but has never casued a human disease.
The Zaire strain of the disease is often fatal (up to 80 per cent of infected people die) and can be extremely infectious. Other Ebola-related diseases and subtypes are less lethal, but still dangerous.
The new study, published in the February 2013 issue of the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases and conduced by the EcoHealth Alliance, indicates that bats in Bangladesh could be an animal reservoir for the disease. There haven’t been any reported cases of Ebola in the country, but this means there is potential.
Between April 2012 and March 2011, researchers tested several species of bats for antibodies to Ebola-related viruses (evidence the virus had infected the bats and caused an immune reaction). They found anti-Ebola antibodies in 5 of the 276 bats (3.5 per cent) they tested from the region. The antibodies they found were specifically a reaction to Ebola Zaire, the most dangerous of the viral strains.
This is the first time they’ve seen antibodies to Ebola in the area, but it’s also the first screen for them. We don’t know if they’ve always been in the area or if the virus is spreading.
What the researchers can say, though, is that this evidence extends the known range of the Zaire Ebola virus to mainland Asia. This could have important consequences for human health, they write. Authorities in Asia should be on the lookout for hemorrhagic fevers that could be Ebola, or related to Ebola.
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