Bats Found to Carry Nipah Virus

MALAYSIA - Researchers have found that Nipah disease can be spread to pigs and humans by bats.
calendar icon 26 May 2010
clock icon 4 minute read

Researchers have discovered bats as Nipah disease carriers and had been the natural reservoir hosts for the virus apart from mosquitoes and pigs, from blood samples taken from the flying mammals, reports Bernama.

Professor Tan Chong Tin, a neurologist, from the Department of Medicine, Universiti Malaya, said bats roosted in the trees within the piggeries in Malaysia, eating the fruits as oil palm fruits within the region dwindled due to El Nino and the Kalimantan bushfires back in 1998.

"The bats then dropped the remnant fruits, other than urine and faeces. What happened next was that the pig farm workers collected the half-eaten fruits and fed them to the pigs, thus transferring the virus in the bats to the pigs."

He told this to reporters after delivering a lecture on 'The Saga of Nipah Virus Encephalitis - An Update' at the International Medical University Malaysia (IMU).

Dr Tan and his 15-member team won the inaugural Merdeka Award in 2008 for their contribution under the Health, Science and Technology category.

Also present at the lecture was Merdeka Award executive director, Datuk Khalid Mohd and dean of IMU's School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Professor Peter C.K. Pook.

The Merdeka Award was established in 2007 to recognise and reward outstanding individuals and organisations whose works and achievements not only contribute to the nation's growth but also inspire Malaysians.

Bernama reports Dr Tan saying that there were also evidence to show that fruit bats coming from a vast area of the world, stretching from West Africa to Australia, were harbouring Nipah or Nipah-like viruses.

"The bats can also criss-cross this region, thus similar bats are found in neighbouring Thailand and Indonesia, after being previously found to roost in Malaysia," he explained.

He said one of his team members, Dr Chua Kaw Bing, a specialist in virology, discovered a number of new viruses in Pulau Tioman in 2000 and Melaka in 2007, indicating that "bats are an important reservoir of the deadly viruses that may infect humans".

He said the experience gained from characterising the Nipah virus, previously unknown to science, and containing the disease outbreak had been important in making Malaysia better prepared to counter virus outbreaks in future.

It had also won Malaysia international recognition in the fields of medicine and virology, he added.

Asked about the research level on the Nipah virus in Malaysia, he said there was still some ongoing work by the Veterinary Research Institute and suggested more funding on Nipah virus research.

He warned that it was possible for the virus to emerge again in this country, affecting those in the rural areas especially.

"We do not want the virus to re-emerge in Malaysia and that is why we need to do more research on the deadly virus and awareness campaigns for the safety of the public," he said.

In 1998, Bernama reports that more than 100 people affected by the virus died, while about 1,700 pigs were culled to stop the virus from spreading.

Further Reading

- Find out more information on Nipah disease by clicking here.
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