Ebola Discovery That May Help Bats

By Merlin D. Tuttle

Early evidence pointed to great apes1 and humans2 as possible sources of Ebola, but they were assumed to be too susceptible to serve as reservoirs. Bats were widely speculated to be the source, though the preponderance of evidence pointed elsewhere3.

By the time of the current outbreak in Guinea, it had long been assumed that bats were to blame for Ebola transmission to humans. Nevertheless, it has now been traced to a symptomless human carrier4.

This raises the possibility that other outbreaks, assumed to have come from bats, instead came from humans or other primates5.

Regrettably, bats have not been aided by public education campaigns now recommended to prevent human stigmatization4. For nearly a decade, bats have been blamed in news articles worldwide as exceptionally dangerous sources of scary diseases, based largely on premature Ebola speculation. The harm done will be long-lasting and difficult to counter, but we may now have an opportunity to begin restoring the tarnished reputation of bats.

Straw-colored fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) at their roost in Zambia. This species was the first one to be erroneously blamed for Ebola.
  1. Reed, P. E. et al. A New Approach for Monitoring Ebolavirus
    in Wild Great Apes. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 8, e3143 (2014).
  2. Mulangu, S. et al. High prevalence of IgG antibodies to
    Ebola virus in the Efé pygmy population in the Watsa region, Democratic
    Republic of the Congo. BMC Infectious Diseases 16, 263 (2016).
  3. Leendertz, S. Testing New Hypotheses Regarding Ebolavirus Reservoirs.
    Viruses 8, 30 (2016).
  4. Kupferschmidt, K. New Ebola outbreak likely sparked by a person infected 5 years ago. Science (2021) doi:10.1126/science.abi4876.
  5. Grady, D. Ebola Survivor Infected Years Ago May Have Started
    New Outbreak – The New York Times. The New York Times
    https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/12/health/ebola-old-infection-new-outbreak.html (2021).