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Fruit bats could be transmitting Ebola: researcher

Fruit bats could be transmitting Ebola: researcher



The current Ebola virus killing thousands in West Africa could be transmitted by fruit bats that could be the Typhoid Mary of the deadly outbreak, according to a prominent Winnipeg-based researcher at the National Microbiology Laboratory.
"And we have a suspicion that these bats are not only transmitting the virus to humans, but also to the Great Apes," said Dr. Jim Strong, whose most recent trip to Sierra Leone was to visit Kailahun. "The Great Apes have been decimated in parts of Africa... up to 85 per cent of the population in some places. So we don't think it (the virus) is hiding in great apes. We think they're a host, just like we are. The bats may have it, but not be symptomatic.
"And there's been some science to show if you inject bats they get the virus, they can transmit the virus, but they don't get sick from it," Strong added.
Strong spoke Friday night at a fundraiser held by the Sierra Leone Nationals Association at Canad Inns in Windsor Park. Strong never gives media interviews, but spoke of his most recent visit to Sierra Leone to a few hundred in attendance, noting the microbiology lab was in the process of sending 800 vials of vaccine to West Africa, which would be arriving in mid-December.
Strong touched on several aspects of the most recent Ebola outbreak, from cautioning against closing borders to the improvement in mortality rates.
"Right now, there really is no specific treatment," Strong said. "Mostly what we're providing is water and food and some isolation... trying to keep the patients comfortable. We've found that supporting care -- meaning giving IV fluids, including other medications -- does make a disease that had been in the past 90 per cent lethal... now we're getting statistics of mortality rates at 30 per cent."
At the fundraiser, the Sierra Leone Nationals Association presented the Red Cross a cheque for $10,000 raised by selling "Fight Ebola" T-shirts around Winnipeg. The association plans to donate their next $10,000 raised to Doctors Without Borders.
The event also honoured Garth Tohms, a Winnipeg plumber who helped the Canadian Red Cross set up a treatment centre in Sierra Leone.
More than 5,000 West Africans have died since the Ebola outbreak was first detected in 2013. Although the number of reported cases is still increasing, the most recent evidence shows mortality rates are falling.
"The good news is the mortality is starting to settle down," Strong said. "We're not sure why that is. It may be because the virus is changing. It's passed through a whole bunch of people so the natural history of this virus is to mutate. So maybe this is mutating into a less lethal form.
"The other theory is maybe we're delivering better care." he added. "That's what I'd like to think."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 22, 2014 A10
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