Scientist Using GPS Trackers to Study Lethal Marburg Virus Carried by Bats

4 Feb 2019

With growing concerns about a potential global threat stemming from the Marburg virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has asked the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency to pony up funds for bat trackers.

The Marburg virus is a close cousin to Ebola, one of the more terrifying viruses widely recognized by those in scientific communities. It is also carried by bats. When transmitted from bats to humans, the illness is lethal in nine out of ten victims when some dying within a single week.

There are two reasons scientists are so eager to study the nocturnal movements of bats. One is in hope of preventing the spread of Marburg and the other is in hopes of making progress for more effective Ebola treatments. The belief is that since the diseases are so closely related, making progress on one disease can boost progress on managing the other.

Initially the project calls for tiny GPS trackers to be attached to the backof 20 bats allowing scientists to study their movements. GPS tracking allows scientists to follow these bats, geographically speaking, as they go about their sojourns each night and return to their own homes before daybreak.

The believe information about the specific fruit trees the animals are feeding on and other information gathered from this effort will help to identify potential risks for communities and, hopefully, prevent future outbreaks.

Since the disease was discovered in 1967, there have been a dozen outbreaks reported responsible for killing hundreds of people. Most of these outbreaks occurred near bat-invested mines or caves. The better science is able to understand the events surrounding outbreaks the more they can do to help protect the general population from becoming victims of these outbreaks.

One species of bat, in particular, the Egyptian fruit bat, is known as a natural reservoir for Marburg. What this means is that the bat is a carrier of the disease without succumbing to the disease itself. However, scientists aren’t sure which other species of bats may carry the disease or how they transmit the disease to humans.

They believe the study, coupled with GPS trackers to trace the movements of the bats involved will be instrumental in helping to reduce outbreaks and slow progression of the disease. Scientists are currently working, on other fronts, to create vaccinations for Marburg.

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