Research Highlight

North-east India's bats, humans harbour antibodies to Ebola, Marburg

doi:10.1038/nindia.2019.149 Published online 14 November 2019

Biologists have found that bats and humans in north-east India carry antibodies to deadly viruses such as Ebola and Marburg.

This is the first report of such antibodies in both humans and bats in this region, which has no historical record of Ebola virus disease. The research raises the possibility of focused virus surveillance at human-wildlife interfaces, enabling detection of deadly pathogens that could potentially trigger epidemics.

Bats are the natural reservoir of the Ebola and Marburg viruses. Growing evidence shows that such viruses are present in south and south-east Asia. However, there have been no reports of outbreaks of such virus-induced haemorrhagic fever in north-east India.

An international research team, including scientists from the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore and Sastra University in Tamil Nadu, India, tested blood samples from hunted bat species and humans who hunt bats in Nagaland.

They also analysed kidney, lung and spleen samples collected from two bat species, Eonycteris spelaea and Rousettus leschenaultii.

No traces of viral genetic material were detected in the bat blood or tissues. However, the researchers found virus-specific antibodies in 5.9 per cent of the human samples, 6.2 per cent of the E. spelaea samples and 13.3 per cent of the R. leschenaultii samples.

One group of samples was positive for antibodies to the Ebola virus and another sample was reactive to the Marburg virus.

The researchers say that the sustained virus infection in the studied bats are due to frequent co-roosting with other bats and the introduction of large numbers of susceptible juveniles into the population. 



1. Dovih, P. et al. Filovirus-reactive antibodies in humans and bats in Northeast India imply zoonotic spillover. PLOS. Neglect. Trop. D.(2019) doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0007733