A report published in EMBO revealed that insectivorous free-tailed bats, commonly called as lolibelo by the locals, could have been the plausible reservoirs of the Ebola virus. Till now, fruit bats which are relatively large and meaty, where considered the source, but the virus’s reservoir host was never positively identified. It also revealed that larger wildlife are not the source of infection.
The team focused their study on a village in Guinea called Meliandou, where the epidemic claimed its first victim, a young boy named Emile Quamouno who died of Ebola-like symptoms in December 2013, followed soon by his mother, sister and grandmother. During the field study, Fabian Leendertz and his team from the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, gathered testimony from survivors and collected samples including blood and tissues from captured bats.
The data revealed that, Meliandou had a sizeable population of small insectivorous bats or lolibelo which are reportedly targeted by children, who regularly hunt and grill them over small fires. They also spotted a large hollow tree which had been recently set afire, producing as it burned, what someone recalled as a “rain of bats”. Soil samples analyzed from the base of that tree, yielded traces of DNA belonging to Mops condylurus, which closely matches the villagers description of lolibelo. The hollow tree used to be a favourite spot to play for all the small children in the village, including the deceased little boy, Emile.
All the circumstantial evidence points to intriguing information about the virus’s reservoir host, but many questions still remain unanswered. How does it infect humans and why did it suddenly reappear?
Disclaimer: This article does not reflect any personal views of the authors/editors