Bat Studies Reveal Ectoparasite

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) is working to contain an outbreak of Marburg Virus Disease that has appeared on the Uganda-Kenya border.

WHO is providing $500,000 from its contingency fund to finance the immediate response. This includes medical supplies and guidance on safe burial practices. An active search is being carried out for people who may have been exposed to or infected by the disease.

Experts say it’s a rare disease caused by a virulent pathogen with an incubation period of 2 -21 days for symptoms marked by fever, chills, headache and myalgia. It is transmitted by direct contact with blood, body fluids and tissues of infected humans, wild animals and fruit bats.

The first case this year appeared in October when a 50 year old woman died at a health centre following the death of her brother three weeks earlier from bleeding vomiting and diarrhoea. He was given a traditional funeral and had worked as a game hunter living near caves inhabited with the Rousettus bat. Bat meat is considered a delicacy in many forested parts of Africa.

To better understand the dynamics of bats and potential threats to human health, Tony Goldberg, University of Wisconsin-Madison epidemiologist and virus hunter with his team, explored the relationship of an African forest bat, a novel virus and a parasite.

The parasite in the current study is an eyeless, wingless fly, as the ectoparasite. It depends on the bat to be both its eyes and wings. And it plays host to a virus. “From a virus’s perspective, an ectoparasite is like Uber. It’s a great way to get around—from animal to animal— at minimal expense and effort,” Goldberg explains.


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