A larger than anticipated population of African fruit bats, which spreads across continental Africa, is infected with Lagos bat virus (related to rabies) and henipaviruses reports a paper published in Nature Communications this week. The work indicates that the population structure of these bats may facilitate spread of viruses among the species, providing guidance regarding how widely the disease may need to be monitored.
African straw-coloured fruit bats – Eidolon helvum – are known to be a reservoir for the Lagos bat virus and henipaviruses, however infected bats often exhibit no symptoms. It has therefore been unclear as to whether these infections are found in isolated populations. Alison Peel, James Wood, Andrew Cunningham and colleagues examined these bats across continental Africa and the Gulf of Guinea, and found that they have very little detectable population structure. This suggests that the bats move freely around the continent to mate. When the presence of virus was also studied in the bats it was found that the viral sequences were similar in bats found in Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda, further confirming the mixing of bats across the entire continent.
Possible instances of Lagos bat virus and henipaviruses have been reported in pigs but neither virus has been detected in humans. These findings may, however, have future implications for human health due to the fact that African fruit bats are found in large numbers and close to human populations. Further monitoring of this disease and the bats that carry it may therefore be needed in order to prevent the disease spilling over into further mammal populations.