Discovery of a hepatitis C-related virus in bats may reduce outbreaks in humans

July 1, 2010

Viral hepatitis affects more than 500 million people worldwide and is a cause of liver failure and liver cancer. While vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B, this is not the case for hepatitis C, which affects as much as two percent of the population in the U.S. Scientists today are reporting discovery of a virus related to hepatitis C in Asian bats, which may provide insights into the origins of the hepatitis C virus and into the mechanisms by which infectious diseases move from other species to humans.

The full study findings are published online in the publication PLoS Pathogens.

Transmitted by or , hepatitis C is a common cause of . Viruses related to hepatitis C, known as GB-viruses, have previously been found only in primates. Now, using cutting-edge molecular techniques, an international team of investigators has identified a GB-virus in Pteropus giganteus bats in Bangladesh. The work was completed at the Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, led by W. Ian Lipkin, MD; the International Centre for Research in Bangladesh; 454 Life Sciences, a Connecticut-based division of Roche Corporation; and the Wildlife Trust in New York City. Using methods, the investigators confirmed the viral genetic material in the serum of five of 98 bats, and in the saliva of one, to be related to GBV-A and -C viruses. Further analysis of the two identified strains, tentatively named GBV-D, suggests that P. giganteus bats are a natural reservoir for this virus. According to the research team, the fact that bat saliva can contain GBV-D provides a biologically plausible mechanism for this agent to be transmitted from infected bats to other hosts, including humans.

Bats are often important hosts for emerging infectious disease agents with significant impact on human health including rabies, ebola, Marburg, hendra, nipah, and SARS viruses. Opportunities for transmission to humans are particularly prominent in countries like Bangladesh, where people live in close association with bats.

"This discovery underscores the importance of international programs focused on microbe hunting in hot spots of emerging infectious diseases," said Dr. Ian Lipkin, John Snow Professor of Epidemiology and director of the CII. "Finding this novel flavivirus in bats significantly broadens the host range of GB-like agents and may provide insights into the origins of ," added Thomas Briese, PhD, lead molecular biologist on the team and Mailman School associate professor and associate director of CII.

"The Indian subcontinent and South Asia are areas where we are ardently working to identify the next possible pandemic disease," stated Peter Daszak, President of Wildlife Trust. "Identification of the natural reservoir of a virus, even if it may not directly infect people, is critical to surveillance and reducing the risk of outbreaks of infectious disease," noted Jonathan Epstein, associate vice president of Conservation Medicine Programs at Wildlife Trust.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Newly discovered viral marker could help predict flu severity in infected patients

October 20, 2017
Flu viruses contain defective genetic material that may activate the immune system in infected patients, and new research published in PLOS Pathogens suggests that lower levels of these molecules could increase flu severity.

H7N9 influenza is both lethal and transmissible in animal model for flu

October 19, 2017
In 2013, an influenza virus that had never before been detected began circulating among poultry in China. It caused several waves of human infection and in late 2016, the number of people to become sick from the H7N9 virus ...

Flu simulations suggest pandemics more likely in spring, early summer

October 19, 2017
New statistical simulations suggest that Northern Hemisphere flu pandemics are most likely to emerge in late spring or early summer at the tail end of the normal flu season, according to a new study published in PLOS Computational ...

Migraines may be the brain's way of dealing with oxidative stress

October 19, 2017
A new perspective article highlights a compelling theory about migraine attacks: that they are an integrated mechanism by which the brain protects and repairs itself. Recent insightful findings and potential ways to use them ...

New insights into herpes virus could inform vaccine development

October 18, 2017
A team of scientists has discovered new insights into the mechanisms of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection, as well as two antibodies that block the virus' entry into cells. The findings, published in Proceedings of the National ...

Pair of discoveries illuminate new paths to flu and anthrax treatments

October 17, 2017
Two recent studies led by biologists at the University of California San Diego have set the research groundwork for new avenues to treat influenza and anthrax poisoning.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.