New species of Ebolavirus discovered in bats

Scientists have discovered a new species of Ebolavirus in bats, prior to detection in an infected human or sick animal.

Published today in Nature Microbiology, the discovery was part of the PREDICT project, which aims to identify viruses in wildlife before they spill over into humans. The new species of Ebolavirus, termed the Bombali virus, was discovered in bats in Sierra Leone and the study also reports the complete genome sequence.

The PREDICT team sampled over 6000 animals in Sierra Leone and screened for both known and unknown Ebola viruses, discovering Bombali virus in five individual bats belonging to two different species.

Take a look at our interview with Tracy Goldstein, Co-Principal Investigator and Pathogen Diagnostics Co-Lead for the PREDICT project >>

Prior to the discovery of the Bombali virus, five Ebolavirus species had been described, with species such as Zaire causing disease in humans. The Bombali virus has the potential to cause infection in human cells, however, the team emphasize that communities should not try to kill or eradicate bats in response to the discovery – an action that can actually increase transmission.

Co-lead author Simon Anthony, from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health (NY, USA), commented: “Identifying new viruses like Bombali ebolavirus in wildlife and testing their capacity for human infection can enhance our understanding of the pre-emergent viral diversity circulating in animals. We want to discover viruses that have the genetic prerequisites for human infection and then prioritize them for further study and intervention.”

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