Fruit bats in central Africa can pose high risk to the humans. Researchers found that a large population of these bats, commonly found in central Africa were carrying deadly viruses.
The findings reported in the journal Nature Communications are based on the tests the researchers conducted on more than 2,000 bats from 12 countries, across Africa. Researchers tested DNA, blood and tissue samples from the bats. Surprisingly, the tests showed that bats, irrespective of the region they belonged to, shared the same genetic factors. It clearly showed that the bats were travelling across Africa and mixed with other population subgroups easily. The bats carried two deadly types of viruses. Nearly 42 percent was infected with henipaviruses, while nearly 34 percent carried Lagos bat virus, which is similar to rabies.
"We now not only know how widespread viral infections are in this bat population, but we also know much more about its population structure," Professor James Wood, the study's senior author from the University of Cambridge's Department of Veterinary Medicine, said in a statement.
"This new information indicates that the unique population of freely mixing bats across the entire continent facilitates the spread of the viruses. This has important implications for the monitoring of these viruses in order to prevent its spread to other animals, including humans."
The virus can be spread to other animals or humans through urine or faeces and meat consumption of the infected bats. Citing the mammals' specific characters- homogeneity and extensive movement- the researchers said that these viruses can easily spread to animals and humans.
Henipaviruses has previously caused a significant threat to SE Asia and Australia, by infecting pigs, horses and humans. Apart from that, pigs in Ghana have been found carrying both of the viruses, earlier.
However, the authors also warned against an immediate attempt to remove bats from the urban areas, by slaughtering them.
"Sometimes, a knee-jerk response can be to try and remove bats from urban areas via culling or dispersal. However, there is evidence to suggest that actions such as this can stress the bats and lead to a greater risk of spill-over," study's lead author, Dr Alison Peel, said. "The most appropriate response is ongoing studies and public awareness to avoid handling bats, and to wash the wound thoroughly if you are bitten by a bat."