By Matthew Hill
(Bloomberg) — Ebola antibodies found in bats in Zambia seem to show that the species of the disease they have been exposed to match outbreaks as far as 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) away, including the one that’s killed more than 10,000 people in West Africa.
A study, conducted by scientists including Hokkaido University’s Professor Ayato Takada and published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases last week, found the transition of the antibodies for the virus family that includes Ebola coincided with flare-ups in humans from 2005 to 2013. Data for 2014 is still being analyzed.
Scientists are still analyzing samples from last year so they cannot definitively say they coincide with the latest Ebola outbreak, Takada said.
The study explores the theory that straw-colored fruitbats become infected with Ebola from natural reservoirs in central Africa but don’t carry the actual virus to Zambia. Alternatively, it hypothesizes that the bats themselves act as the reservoirs from which outbreaks into human populations periodically occur. In addition to primates, filoviruses such as Ebola can infect dogs, pigs and duikers, a small species of antelope. Conclusive evidence of either of the hypotheses wasn’t found.
“I do not believe that this bat species serves as a natural reservoir of filoviruses, but our serology data suggest that they can be infected,” Takada said in reply to e-mailed questions on Thursday. “This further suggests that they might have a chance to contact with authentic natural hosts of filoviruses somewhere central Africa.”
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