Agence France-Presse, May 19, 1999

Deadly epidemic possibly caused by bats

Researchers find virus in fruit bats

PARIS: New evidence suggests that fruit bats could be the cause of a deadly outbreak of encephalitis which recently swept through Malaysia, killing about 100 people.

Antibodies to a virus which causes encephalitis, Nipah, have been detected in two species of fruit bat, Australian researchers have found.

More than 300 blood samples taken from bats in Malaysia are currently being tested by Hume Field, a scientist at the Queensland Department of Primary Industry's Animal Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia.

In some populations, up to 25 percent of bats seem to have been exposed to the virus.

Scientists have so far been unable to isolate the virus from bats, however, which is essential in pinpointing them as the virus's reservoir or carrier.

Virologists at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia are searching for the Nipah virus in bat tissue samples in order to do just that.

The virus is believed to have originally come from pigs.

A related virus called Hendra was responsible for the deaths of two people in Queensland who came into contact with infected horses in 1994. Bats seem to also be a reservoir for this virus, and Australian virologists then asked for funding to test bats in the region for Hendra.

That request was rejected, but with the recent encephalitis outbreak in Malaysia linked to the Nipah virus, Peter Young of the Queensland Research Institute said he hopes that decision might be reconsidered. Work could then begin as early as July.

"We want to check bats from the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea," Young said.

A virologist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, John MacKenzie, said he also plans to test Field's samples for Ebola, which some scientists believe is also carried by bats.

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