New research out of The University of Hong Kong, China and the HKU-Pasteur Research Centre, Hong Kong suggests that bats are reservoirs of a newly identified group of astroviruses, a significant agent of diarrhea in many species including humans.
Bats are known to harbor many human zoonotic diseases such as Nipah, Ebola, and SARS and are increasingly recognized as hosts to a wide range of viruses, most of which establish long-term persistence in the animals. Astroviruses are associated with gastroenteritis in a variety of mammals including humans, but most commonly afflict children, the elderly and immunocompromised patients. Until now, most studies of astroviruses have focused on humans and domesticated animals, so little is known about potential carriers in wildlife.
In the study researchers collected fecal samples from a single habitat of apparently healthy insectivorous bats in Hong Kong over a one year period. Results showed high genetic diversity of viruses within a single habitat, with detection rates of 30% to 70% in Miniopterus magnater bats and 50% to 70% in Miniopterus pusillus bats. The researchers suggest that some of the bat astroviruses may be genetically linked to human astroviruses and believe that further studies are warranted.
"These findings are likely to provide new insights into the ecology and evolution of astroviruses and reinforce the role of bats as a reservoir of viruses with potential to pose a zoonotic threat to human health," say the researchers.
- Chu et al. Novel Astroviruses in Insectivorous Bats. Journal of Virology, 2008; 82 (18): 9107 DOI: 10.1128/JVI.00857-08
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