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Coronavirus: Study on bats, hunters in Nagaland to be probed

By Mirror Desk Updated: Feb 03, 2020 10:08 pm
Eastern Mirror Desk 

Dimapur, Feb. 3 (EMN): Amid global efforts to combat the coronavirus epidemic, an inquiry has been ordered by the government of India into a study conducted in Nagaland on bats and humans carrying antibodies to deadly viruses like Ebola.

The study, conducted in 2017, by researchers from India, USA and China, has come under the scanner, as two of the 12 researchers belonged to the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s department of Emerging Infectious Diseases, and the United States’ Department of Defence’s ‘Defence Threat Reduction Agency’ (DTRA) funded it.

The research study was conducted at Mimi village in Kiphire district, where 85 individuals were chosen to participate in an annual bat harvest. The majority of bat hunters were male, aged between 18 and 50, and they participated at least eleven times in the harvest. According to the study, it was found that the virus responsible for outbreaks may not be the exact copy of the potential virus present in the bat.

The study in Nagaland suggests bats in South Asia act as a reservoir host of a diverse range of filoviruses; and filovirus spillover occurs through human exposure to these bats, according to a report by The Hindu

Officials are on alert, as the newly discovered viruses might pose a challenge, and they want to take no chance on their spread and will take action to ensure all medical studies in the country adhere to strict norms, it said.

The scientists are being investigated for being allowed to access live samples of bats and bat hunters (humans) without due permissions. The results of the study were published in October 2019 in the PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases journal, originally established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They would have required special permissions as foreign entities, it said.

The researchers were from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in the US and the Duke-National University in Singapore.

The study, ‘Filovirus-reactive antibodies in humans and bats in Northeast India imply Zoonotic spillover’, published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases states the researchers found “the presence of filovirus (e.g., ebolavirus, marburgvirus and dianlovirus) reactive antibodies in both human (e.g., bat hunters) and bat populations in Northeast India, a region with no historical record of Ebola virus disease.”

“The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) sent a five-member committee to investigate. The inquiry is complete, and a report has been submitted to the Health Ministry,” a senior government official told The Hindu.

In a written reply to questions from The Hindu, the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta said it “did not commission this study and had not received any enquiries (from the Indian government) on it.” An American official, however, suggested that the US Department of Defence might not have coordinated the study through the CDC, read the report.

The inquiry comes as officials’ worldwide grapple with the spread of novel coronavirus 2019, from Wuhan, China, to 20 countries that have resulted in over 300 deaths, it read.

Bats often carry Ebola, Rabies, Marburg and the SARS coronavirus. Many high-profile epidemics have been traced to bats, and scientists are discovering new bat-borne viruses all the time. Ebola and Marburg viruses are known to cause severe hemorrhagic fevers, which affect many organs and damage the blood vessels, killing more than 50% of the people they infect, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

By Mirror Desk Updated: Feb 03, 2020 10:08:31 pm