Researchers have found a new species of Ebola virus in the bats of Sierra Leone, West Africa. The announcement was made by the country’s government on July 26. The development has come two years after the Ebola virus outbreak that killed 11,000 people across the region. The virus is currently identified as ‘Bombali Ebola Virus’ after Bombali, the place it was discovered in. The research was conducted by scientists from Columbia University, the University of California in Davis and EcoHealth Alliance. The findings from the research have not been published yet. The government has been working towards preventing harmful rumours from spreading and rolling out educational programmes.
The virus has been identified in two bat species through fragments of RNA. These bats have been found widely across the Sub-Saharan Africa. The team has been successful in reconstructing most of the viral genome, which showed that it was quite different from the existing five Ebola viruses.
Researchers were able to understand that the exterior of the virus had a protein cover, which allows it to infect human cells. Amara Jambai, a senior health official from Sierra Leone told Agence France-Presse that while it is unclear whether the virus has been transmitted to people or has been causing diseases in them, Bombali Ebola Virus has the capacity to infect human cells.
He also added that the research is at its early stage and urged the public to stay calm on the matter. Researchers who found the new virus in the region have now joined hands with the government to determine whether any humans have been infected. Harold Thomas, a health ministry spokesperson told AFP that as a precautionary measure, people have been instructed to stop consuming bushmeat, especially bats.
The 2013-2016 West African outbreak killed more than 11,000 people across Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia and was declared the worst one so far. Few months ago, India had its brush with the Nipah virus when 17 people fell prey to it in Kerala. Zoonotic illnesses have been on the rise in the last couple of years mainly due to the increasing proximity between humans and vectors. Rapid industrialisation, urbanisation and the changing climate have been all held responsible for the rising instances of these diseases.