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Scientists isolate a new BAT virus that can infect humans, thriving in Spain and Hungry

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For the first time, researchers from the Medway School of Pharmacy have successfully isolated the Lloviu virus (LLOV), a close sibling of the Ebola virus, underscoring the need for more study to ensure pandemic readiness.

The filovirus family, which includes the Ebola virus, includes LLOV. Unlike Ebola (and other filoviruses such as the equally lethal Marburg virus), Lloviu has been identified in Europe. The filovirus LLOV was discovered in bats in Hungary after its genetic material (RNA) was discovered in Schreiber’s bats in Spain in 2002.

This virus, which is a zoonotic one, is of relevance to public health around the world because of our strong ties to animals in agriculture, as pets, and in the natural world. This is especially true in recent years, given the ongoing loss and encroachment of many wild creatures’ natural habitats.

“Zoonoses comprise a large percentage of all newly identified infectious diseases, as well as many existing ones,” according to the World Health Organization.

Even before the virus was isolated, the scientists conducted all of the antibody detection studies with bat serum as part of the investigation. This was done in a Hungarian lab with the very last bat that tested positive for LLOV.

Significantly, the researchers have revealed that Lloviu has the ability to both infect and multiply human cells. This raises fears of broad transmission in Europe and calls for quick pathogenicity and antiviral research. The study also found no cross-reactivity between LLOV and Ebola antibodies, implying that existing Ebola vaccines may not protect against Lloviu if it is transmitted to humans.

The study authors add that their “research is a smoking gun. It’s vital that we know both more about the distribution of this virus and that research is done in this area to assess the risks and to ensure we are prepared for potential epidemics and pandemics.”

This study shows that there is a significant knowledge gap about pathogenicity, animal hosts, and transmissibility of these newly identified viruses. The team was able to form a consortium of European bat virologists thanks to funding from the British Academy, bringing together experts in the field from ecology to virology. The group hopes to conduct important additional research across Europe into the risks of the Lloviu virus to humans, as well as other virus families that employ bats as hosts, such as coronavirus and lyssavirus (rabies).

Image Credit: Getty

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