New Study Published on Optimizing Viral Discovery in Bats

NEW YORK – February 11, 2016: EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit organization that focuses on local conservation and global health issues, announced the results of a new study published in PLOS ONE – a multidisciplinary open access journal. The research article, “Optimizing Viral Discovery in Bats” collated and analyzed an extensive dataset from almost 100 bat virus studies published between 2007-13. The paper combined statistical analyses and results from these studies with the overall aim of improving viral detection in bat species and identifying gaps where future research will be most effective. “Bat virus research has seen an enormous increase in the last decade, but this growth has been piecemeal with each study focused on a few bat species or one viral family at a time. The significance of our study is that for the first time we pull this large body of knowledge together into a single analysis.” said Dr. Kevin Olival, senior author on the paper and Associate Vice President for Research at EcoHealth Alliance.

 

From Amphibian chytrid fungus to Zika virus, EcoHealth Alliance scientists have been working to understand the dynamics of wildlife diseases and why they emerge in both people and wildlife populations. While many different animals carry viruses that can be transmitted to humans, recent research has linked bats to Ebola outbreaks, and also as natural reservoirs for other emerging human viruses, including SARS, Marburg, Hendra, and Nipah viruses. All these outbreaks are commonly linked to bat species, but also by the fact that human interactions and behaviors are also causing their emergence and emerging disease public health threats more generally.  This is an unfortunate aspect to plague an incredibly diverse group of animals.  Bats are ecologically important and critical to maintain healthy ecosystems by providing seed dispersal, insect control and pollination activities that renew growth of forests as well as reap agricultural benefits.

 

In the last several years there has been a large effort in the scientific community to discover and catalogue diseases in bats before they reach the critical stage where they become public health emergencies. Many of these efforts are not coordinated, however, and not enough research has been done to understand the larger trends. “We found about 250 new bat viruses were discovered in seven years, and importantly, viral discovery success using non-invasive, capture and release methods were just as effective as more detrimental sampling approaches in finding new viruses,” said Cristin Young, co-author and current PhD candidate at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Olival added, “This finding has important conservation implications and supports EcoHealth Alliance’s use of conservation-friendly, non-lethal animal sampling methods.” There are still many bat viruses that remain undiscovered, and although the study mostly focused on research methods and past findings, it will improve the ability for early detection and discovery of the next zoonoses.

 

About EcoHealth Alliance

Building on over 40 years of groundbreaking science, EcoHealth Alliance is a global, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife and safeguarding human health from the emergence of disease. The organization develops ways to combat the effects of damaged ecosystems on human and wildlife health.  Using environmental and health data covering the past 60 years, EcoHealth Alliance scientists created the first-ever, global disease hotspots map that identified at-risk regions, to help predict and prevent the next pandemic crisis. That work is the foundation of EcoHealth Alliance’s rigorous, science-based approach, focused at the intersection of the environment, health, and capacity building.  Working in the U.S. and more than 20 countries worldwide, EcoHealth Alliance’s strength is founded on innovations in research, training, global partnerships, and policy initiatives.  For more information, please visit www.ecohealthalliance.org.

 

Press Contact: Anthony M. Ramos, ramos@ecohealthalliance.org, 212.380.4469

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