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News

Destruction of fruit bats' habitat could spread disease

Society For General Microbiology : 11 January, 2002  (Company News)
New agricultural developments are destroying the habitats of protected fruit bat species in Australia, and could lead to the spread of deadly viral diseases to humans and farm animals, medical experts heard during a joint meeting of the European Societies of Clinical and Veterinary Virology and the Society for General Microbiology at the Royal College of Physicians, London.
New agricultural developments are destroying the habitats of protected fruit bat species in Australia, and could lead to the spread of deadly viral diseases to humans and farm animals, medical experts heard during a joint meeting of the European Societies of Clinical and Veterinary Virology and the Society for General Microbiology at the Royal College of Physicians, London.

'Destruction of roost sites by agricultural or urban development may cause fruit bats to move closer to farm animals and humans. Diversification, for example the establishment of a piggery on a farm that has an orchard, could also lead to an increased chance of contact between farm animals and fruit bats,' says Adrian Philbey of the Moredun Research Institute, Edinburgh.

Mr Philbey explains, 'The close proximity of a fruit bat colony to a pig farm in New South Wales, Australia has been linked to a recent outbreak of Menangle virus disease. Studies have shown that pigs consume fruit bat faeces avidly and are also likely to eat any dead fruit bats that they might encounter, which could lead to transmission of the virus.'

Menangle virus and its relations Nipah and Hendra viruses are found in subtropical regions and are related to measles, rubella and canine distemper viruses. They can cause a fatal respiratory disease in pigs and horses or reproductive disease in pigs. Humans can also become infected with these viruses through contact with infected animals, which leads to an influenza-like disease, and in some cases, brain damage and fatal pneumonia.

'In Australia all species of fruit bat are protected and some are endangered. We hope to determine the extent to which fruit bats are infected with these viruses so that we can work out the risk to humans, and then develop rapid diagnosis and early control strategies so that we can avoid culling these animals,' says Mr Philbey.
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