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Conservation firm denies bats spread Ebola virus

16 October 2014, 09:23

Naivasha - Bats Conservation Africa (BCA), a global conservation firm, on Wednesday allayed fears that bats are spreading Ebola and Marburg viruses which have led to the death of over 4,000 people, mainly in West Africa.

BCA chairman Paul Webala who also admitted that the bats are known reservoirs of a host of viral infections including Ebola, said that the mammals are unlikely to spread the dreaded disease.

"There are nearly 300 bat species in Africa, making up 20 percent of African mammalian diversity," Webala told journalists in Naivasha.

The sentiments come in the wake of reports that bats in some of the affected countries in West Africa were responsible for spreading the deadly Ebola disease.

However, Webala said there were no documented Ebola virus disease outbreaks caused by bats. He said the current Ebola outbreak was spreading within the human population, adding that no known case has been traced to contact with a bat.

The researcher admitted that African bats had been associated with viruses such as Ebola virus, Marburg virus and Shimoni virus.

He noted that the nature of many associations, whether as reservoir, vector or accidental host, remained poorly understood.

"The role of bats as reservoirs of Ebola virus in equatorial Africa has yet to be confirmed while the wildlife source of the current Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa is as yet unknown," he said.

The university lecturer expressed his concern over a move to cull bats in residential areas over fears of transmitting the disease terming this as short-sighted.

Also read: East African ministers resolve to mitigate spread of Ebola

"Previous eviction and culling attempts in response to disease outbreaks have backfired and actually increased transmission of rabies like in Australia," he said.

Webala said exclusion of bats roosting in houses should be done in a bat-friendly way.

"BAT Conservation Africa recommends that bats and their roosts be left undisturbed, don't touch them, don't evict them, don't kill them and don't eat them," he said.

Webola, however, was quick to admit that bats can carry diseases transmissible to humans and pointed out to rabies.

He noted that more than 99 percent of human deaths from rabies occurring in Africa and Asia were caused by infections from carnivores, including domestic dogs.

The lecturer noted that bats played many roles in the ecosystem including pollination, seed dispersal and insect reduction.

He said that these roles provided invaluable services to people directly and indirectly, thereby supporting local livelihoods and healthy ecosystems.

"By consuming agricultural pests, insectivorous bats contribute enormously to agricultural productivity through reduction in crop loss and pesticide usage," he said.

 - Xinhua

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