A four-year countrywide search for the deadly Ebola, Zika and Marburg viruses in local bats has identified germs that are potentially dangerous to Kenyans.
A collaboration between Kenya and China has found local bats host viruses closely related to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars).
The Mers virus, which has since been confirmed in local camels, was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. So far, more than 1,800 cases of Mers have been confirmed in 25 countries, estimated to kill 36 per cent of those infected.
On the other hand, Sars at its peak in 2003 killed 8,000 people in 26 countries mainly in Asia.
“We found that bats from several parts of the country harbour viruses that are very similar to the Mers and Sars strain. They also play host to other possible human disease causing germs,” said Dr Bernard Agwanda of the National Museums of Kenya.
He said because such viruses have capacity to mutate and become a threat to humans and livestock, Kenyans must be careful in their interaction with wild animals.
Dr Agwanda, who is also a member of the Presidential advisory committee on Ebola, said their search did not pin down the deadly Ebola virus, neither its Marburg nor Zika relatives.
He said the study has so far tested urine and fecal samples from the bats but said this is hardly the best material to test for Ebola or its filoviruses relatives.
“We will use the bat’s blood samples during the next stage of testing and have already collected the blood specimens,” he said.
The team had screened the bats for nine groups of viruses suspected to be potentially dangerous to human, livestock and the health of pets.
For example, the team found bats to host organism known to cause measles, mumps and the deadlier Nipah virus. They also found close relatives of viruses which cause dengue fever, yellow fever, West Nile and the deadly encephalitis or inflammation of the brain.
The team also confirmed the bats to be a natural host of rotavirus which causes diarrohea mainly in children or people whose immunity is compromised for example by HIV.
Bats have been linked to various Ebola outbreaks in Africa the latest and most deadly ever in 2014 in West Africa which killed 11,315 people from 28,637 cases.
The researchers however, assured Kenyans that there is nothing to fear from bats which are important in seed dispersal, crop pollination and control of mosquitoes.
“Please let us know when you find bat colonies, do not disturb them,” Dr Agwanda said.