Scientists at Colorado State University in the United States have detected the RNA of the Zika virus in bats that live free in Africa. This is the first time a study of its kind has been done with a free-roaming bat, and the discovery could provide important information on how these creatures are exposed to the virus in the wild.
Anna Fagre, a veterinarian, postdoctoral fellow and leader of the study, explains that RNA is a molecule that plays a major role in the function of genes. The researcher reveals that other studies had already proven the susceptibility of bats to the Zika virus, but in experimental and controlled environments, saying that the detection of RNA in wild bats shows that they are naturally infected or that they were exposed to the virus by bites of infected mosquitoes.
Scientists analyzed 198 bat samples collected in the Zika Forest, Uganda, confirming the presence of the Zika virus in four of these animals, three species. The material was collected in 2009, years before the outbreak of the disease that took place from 2015 to 2017 in North and South America.
According to the researchers, the Zika virus found in free-range bats is more related to the Asian strain, showing that this strain of the virus may have been present on the African continent for longer than previously thought. Furthermore, genomic and viral evolutions may have taken place in the African lineage, something that scientists are not aware of. Fagre says the low prevalence of the Zika virus in the bat samples analyzed indicates that they may have been incidental hosts of infection rather than amplifiers or reservoirs.
Scientists will continue the research to try to find out when, approximately, the bats were infected with the Zika virus, and other questions that are still open. They say that new outbreaks are likely and the virus is still a threat.
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