New bat-borne virus discovered in China

March 29, 2019

Bats are particularly well-known carriers of viruses which can be fatal to humans – the recent discovery of an Ebola-like virus by Chinese and Singaporean scientists in the liver of fruit bats in Yunnan Province, China, is therefore potentially dangerous.

Named after Mengla County, the ‘Mengla’ virus belongs to the small but deadly family of filoviruses, including Ebola virus. These viruses cause severe haemorrhagic fever in humans and primates, but there is no evidence as yet that the Mengla virus has been transmitted to humans.

The same Chinese scientists have previously found evidence of several filoviruses in other species of bats and now discovered that the Mengla virus has 32-54% genetic similarity with known filoviruses, but is different enough to warrant its own genus – Dianlovirus.

The genome of the Mengla virus has indicated that it can infect mammals. The virus has the potential to either infect humans directly or by first infecting other animals – the Mengla virus can jump to humans through urbanisation and deforestation and the resulting close interaction between humans and animals.

In 2018, the ‘Bombali’ Ebola virus was discovered in free-tailed bats in Sierra Leone, West Africa posing a high risk to humans because free-tailed bats are known to roost in people’s homes. The added consumption of bat “bushmeat” in Africa and hunting bats for money has put them at further risk of animal to human spillover of viruses. African authorities have worked to contain the virus.

However, there is a potential role of bats in the spread of diseases, threatening global public health, and identification of this new Mengla virus has showed the genetic diversity of filoviruses beyond Africa. It is a warning that we need to continuously monitor and swiftly respond to emergency situations of future diseases.


Category: Community, Features

Comments are closed.