Scientists at Colorado State University have found the genetic material of the Zika virus in free-ranging African bats. This discovery in bats outside of controlled trials is the first identifier of RNA from this virus. As reported in the scientific report, the animals appear too infected naturally or by infected mosquito bites. Zika virus is a part of the family Flaviviridae, including the West Nile River and the dengue virus, which are all mosquito-borne diseases in humans so it is important to understand how it can spread to animals. The team analyzed 198 specimens of bats gathered in and around Uganda’s Zika forest. Four bats of three different species had Zika virus RNA. Most of the samples predict large Zika outbreaks starting in Micronesia and French Polynesia before going to America. Lead author Dr Anna Fagre said in a statement, “Our positive samples, which are most closely linked to the Zika virus of Asian descent, received samples from bats from 2009 to 2013.”
“Could this mean that the Asian lineage of the virus was present on the African continent longer than we initially thought, or could it mean that there was a substantial amount of viral evolution and genomic changes in the Zika virus of the African lineage? Not previously aware.” Four out of 198 bats are low enough, which means that the bats are just accidental hosts. Therefore, they cannot help spread the virus and they cannot create any reservoir for it. However, more research needed to confirm whether this is indeed the case.
“These results are from a single cross-sectional study. Based on our study, it can be risky and premature to make a decision about the ecology and epidemiology of this pathogen,” Fagre added. “Studies like this only tell a part of the story.” The team further wants understand how long the RNA fragments remain in the tissue so that they understand that the bats actually transmitted the infection. “There’s always a concern about zoonotic viruses,” explained senior author and assistant professor Rebecca Kading. “There is a possibility of another outbreak and it may calm down for a while. We know that in the Zika forest, where the virus was first found, the virus is in a non-human primate that there are still some questions with it.” I do not think the Zika virus is gone forever.”