Researchers are testing fruit bats in the Republic of the Congo for viruses such as Ebola to learn more about the risks of diseases spreading to humans
25 January 2023
Fruit bats in the Republic of the Congo are being tested for zoonotic diseases, including Ebola, in an effort by conservationists and medical researchers to better understand the risk posed by the live trade of fruit bats and the consumption of bat meat in the country.
Blood samples and nose and throat swabs were collected from around 100 fruit bats near the Congolese capital Brazzaville this month by researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Congolese Foundation for Medical Research.
The team sourced the bats from hunters who usually sell their catches in bushmeat markets around the city. None of the bats have so far tested positive for Ebola viruses, although fruit bats are known to harbour them and to have antibodies to the disease.
Multiple outbreaks of Ebola have been confirmed across Africa over the past 20 years, with Uganda, Gabon, the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo among the countries worst affected.
Ebola is a zoonotic disease, meaning it jumps from animal to human hosts. The train of transmission still isn’t clear, but scientists suspect that initial outbreaks occur after a person comes into contact with an infected animal, such as a monkey or fruit bat.
Researchers hope the fruit bat testing programme will help them to pinpoint how Ebola is spreading, including whether the trade of bushmeat is involved. Since 2012, WCS has tested more than 1200 fruit bats across the Republic of the Congo for pathogens with zoonotic potential.
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