Liberia: New Ebola Virus Discovered in Bats

Monrovia: After several successful years being declared an Ebola-free country by the World Health Organization, a new study conducted by the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute shows the discovery of Zaire Ebola virus in Bats in the Sanniquillie Mahn-District of Nimba County.

Nimba County is the one Liberia’s biggest county with huge land space and forest that carries special species, and it is being used by hunters to fetch animals for survival.

The discovery, according to a release from the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia, was done during the period between June 2016 to November 2018 with over 5000 bats from across the country, and the infected bat was found among several others in a cave dwelling in the deepest part of the forest in Sannequillie.

Liberia and other West African countries were struck by Ebola Virus Disease in 2014 claiming 11,000 people lives while killing over 4,000 in Liberia alone – the highest and worst affected in the region.

The Head of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia Tolbert Nyensuah disclosed during a press conference that currently Liberia is free from Ebola even though the findings from the sampling discovered the virus in a bat.

“Let me repeat there is no Ebola in Liberia absolutely no need for people to panic and we are doing everything possible to ensure that people don’t come in contact with those bats and moreover they are very deep into the forest where people don’t go.

Mr. Nyensuah indicated that the finding was the result of a proactive approach by the government of Liberia to identify the source of the Ebola Virus which is believed to be in bats.

“The discovery is significant because it is the first detection of the Zaire ebolavirus in West Africa and provides important evidence that is particular bat may be a natural host of Ebola”.

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The infected bat, the Ministry noted, along with hundreds of other bats was sampled in late 2016 and tested between June and November 2018. “To date all other bats have tested negative. There is no known case of Ebola outbreak in Liberia,” the Ministry clarified.

The discovery of Zaire ebolavirus in the creature in the cave-dwelling insect-eating bat, a Greater Long-fingered bat, was a collective effort of the MOH, NPHIL, the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA). It is funded by USAID and sampling and testing was conducted by the PREDICT project led by Eco Health Alliance and the Society for the Conservation of Nature in Liberia.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health release noted that studies are still ongoing to determine whether more of this type or other types of bats are infected, and how bats spread the virus, adding that the information will he used to develop strategies to reduce the risk of future outbreaks. “Outgoing investigation will also determine whether or not the discovery is the same strain of the virus that caused the unprecedented 2014-2016 outbreak in West Africa.” Adding: “Zaire ebolavirus can be spread from person to person causing Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), and even causing death.”
Health Minister, Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah and NPHIL Director General, Tolbert G. Nyensuah are calling on the public to observe these preventive measures including: “avoid hunting bats, killing and coming in direct contact with bats.

Meanwhile, as part of NPHIL’s mandate to prevent and control health threats and events, Mr. Nyensuah has boasted of a 10 times safer public health environment for Liberians over the last one year. “Our surveillance system is effective in all 73 districts of the 15 counties in Liberia and has the capacity to detect epidemic-prone disease rapidly, thus we have kept Liberia safe for the past three years since 2016, and there has been no known case of Ebola in Liberia we are still Ebola-free, he pointed out.

“We now have huge capacity to test various diseases including EVD, Lassa Fever, Meningitis, yellow fever, cholera, Measles, Rubella, Acute Watery Diarrhea ETC, and don’t have to transport samples to other countries for testing anymore, Mr. Nyensuah noted.

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