CDC Reports the Presence of Marburg Virus in Sierra Leone Fruit Bats

The scientists at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have informed the public about the presence of a deadly virus in bat colonies in Sierra Leone – West African country. This deadly virus, known as the Marburg virus, has been reported in West Africa for the first time.

The USAID funded project of the CDC – PREDICT, has made it possible to detect deadly Marburg virus before it infects any individual. Up till now, no outbreak associated with this Ebola-like (Marburg) virus has been reported in Sierra Leone or West Africa.

Though the findings of this project related to Marburg virus were published last week in the journal “Nature Communications”, but the initial findings were publicized in December 2019, to make sure that Sierra Leone citizens and international health community are aware of this issue.

The CDC scientists tested 435 Egyptian rousette fruit bats for detection of Marburg virus and found that among these bats, 2.5 % (11 bats) were positive. These bats were from four districts including Kono, Koinadugu, and Moyamba.

The findings emphasize that there is a need for collaboration between the major stakeholders and the government. Such an action across different sectors helps in informing the communities at risk about the discovery of this virus. It may also help in informing the public about risk-reduction approaches and addressing health concerns before the infection caused by this virus spreads.

Egyptian rousette bats are a natural reservoir for this deadly Marburg virus. On further investigation, it was revealed that the strain of this virus found in infected fruit bats were quite identical to the one reported in Angola in 2005.

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Marburg and Ebola, both viruses belong to the same family. Among different strains of Marburg virus that have been identified so far, the Angola strain was observed to be most virulent. During the outbreak caused by this Ebola-like (Marburg) virus in 2005, death was reported in every 9 of 10 individuals who were exposed to this deadly virus.

Whereas, among the individuals infected by the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014 – 2016, it was reported that every 4 of 10 individuals died because of the illness associated with it. This study is the first one to identify Angola-like strain of the Marburg virus in Sierra Leone bats in West Africa.

The individuals at risk of getting infected with this virus include those who come in contact with the bats positive for Marburg virus or who have eaten fruit exposed to the saliva or urine of the infected bat. Up till now, this virus hasn’t infected any individual but the presence of this deadly virus in fruit bats indicates the risk of possible outbreaks in the future.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has joined hands with its partners in Sierra Leone to informs citizens in Sierra Leone regarding how to they can protect themselves from getting infected. The CDC partners and scientists suggest people avoid the use of partially eaten fruit and any contact with bats as they are reservoirs for the deadly Marburg virus.

This study was conducted in collaboration with the University of Makeni, the University of California, Davis’ One Health Institute, and the University of Makeni, Sierra Leone.