Sierra Leone’s health ministry yesterday said a new species of Ebola virus has been detected in bats in the north of the country, which would bring the number of known species to six and be the first new one identified in more than a decade.
The new virus is named Bombali for the district it was found, and a health ministry official said it’s not known if the virus can be transmitted to people, though lab tests suggest that it has the potential to enter human cells, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported yesterday.
Virus found in 5 of 241 bats
According to a health ministry statement posted by the Sierra Leone Telegraph, a newspaper based in Sierra Leone, the virus was found as part of the PREDICT Ebola Host Research Project, which is funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The virus was found in 5 of 241 insect-eating bats tested and is distinct from all previously known Ebola viruses.
Peter Daszak, PhD, president of EcoHealth Alliance, which leads the PREDICT project, told Stat that the virus was found in Angolan freetail bats and though scientists weren’t able to isolate live virus from the samples, they identified enough viral RNA fragments to sequence a nearly complete genome.
He said a scientific paper describing the virus has been prepared and is still under embargo. He added that Sierra Leone’s government wanted to announce the finding to the local press to get ahead of rumors and launch an education campaign, Stat reported.
The government statement said studies are under way to assess if the virus can cause disease, and government officials and their research partners are engaging with local communities to share what is known about the new virus and how to live safely with bats.
First new Ebola virus since 2007
The last new species, Bundibugyo, was first identified in 2007 in Uganda as part of an outbreak investigation. The Ebola Zaire species was the cause of the outbreak in West Africa that sickened about 28,600 people, about 11,300 of them fatally, as well as a just-ended outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Of the five earlier known Ebola species, three have triggered outbreaks in Africa: Zaire, Bundibugyo, and Sudan. Tai Forest (formerly Cote d’Ivoire) has been identified in only one human case. The Ebola Reston species, found only in the Philippines, can cause asymptomatic infections in people but is deadly for non-human primates and can sicken pigs.
Learn more: New Ebola species identified in Sierra Leone
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