Abstract

Bats are reservoirs for several zoonotic pathogens, including filoviruses. Recent work highlights the diversity of bat borne filoviruses in Asia. High risk activities at the bat-human interface pose the threat of zoonotic virus transmission. We present evidence for prior exposure of bat harvesters and two resident fruit bat species to filovirus surface glycoproteins by screening sera in a multiplexed serological assay. Antibodies reactive to two antigenically distinct filoviruses were detected in human sera and to three individual filoviruses in bats in remote Northeast India. Sera obtained from Eonycteris spelaea bats showed similar patterns of cross-reactivity as human samples, suggesting them as the species responsible for the spillover. In contrast, sera from Rousettus leschenaultii bats reacted to two different virus glycoproteins. Our results indicate circulation of several filoviruses in bats and the possibility for filovirus transmission from bats to humans.

Author summary

Focused virus surveillance at human-wildlife interfaces enables proactive detection of potentially epidemic pathogens. Filoviruses, including ebolaviruses and marburgviruses, are pathogens with epidemic potential. They were previously detected in bats and have caused disease outbreaks in humans with a high case fatality rate. Here, we tested sera obtained from bats and humans at a high-risk interface for the presence of filovirus reactive antibodies. Human participants were engaged in annual bat hunts, possibly exposing them to bat-borne viruses. We report the exposure of humans to filoviruses that were likely derived from the two sampled bat species. The bats contain antibodies raised to presumably three distinct filoviruses. Our findings suggest bats in South Asia act as a reservoir host of a diverse range of filoviruses and filovirus spillover occurs through human exposure to these bats.

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Citation: Dovih P, Laing ED, Chen Y, Low DHW, Ansil BR, Yang X, et al. (2019) Filovirus-reactive antibodies in humans and bats in Northeast India imply zoonotic spillover. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 13(10): e0007733. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0007733