Live Marburg virus was discovered in fruit bats in Sierra Leone, the first time the deadly Ebola-like virus has been found in West Africa, the CDC reported.
According to the agency, five Egyptian rousette fruit bats — the natural reservoir for Marburg — tested positive for active infection. The bats were discovered through two projects that were started in 2016 following the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, including one led by the CDC. They came from the health districts of Moyamba, Koinaduga, and Kono.
“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,” CDC ecologist Jonathan Towner, PhD, said in a news release.
Samples from the bats showed multiple genetically diverse strains, suggesting that the virus has been present in Sierra Leone bat colonies for years, the CDC said. Although no human cases have been reported in Sierra Leone, the virus’ presence in bats means people are at risk. People can be exposed through bites or by eating fruit that is contaminated by bat feces, urine, or saliva.
“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,” Towner said.
At present, there is no vaccine for the Marburg virus but some are being tested, including a phase 1 trial of a vaccine candidate at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
Marburg, like Ebola, can cause severe hemorrhagic fever. Outbreaks have resulted in case fatality rates between 24% and 88%, according to WHO. – by Erin Michael
Disclosures: Towner works for the CDC.