Friday, July 11, 2008

Queen Elizabeth National Park bat caves and possible disease link

Interesting to see that a case of fatal Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever (MHF) has been linked to the Maramgambo bat cave in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. I picked this report up on the important listserv PRO/AH> ProMED-AHEAD Digest of 11th July, a service to which I have been subscribing for several years.

The report describes how one unfortunate Dutch tourist, visiting the cave that is the roosting site for thousands of Egyptian Fruit Bats went down with the disease not long after she returned home and died soon afterwards despite heroic care. Genetic analysis of samples showed that her condition was indeed caused by a previously unreported type of this virus. Marburg HF has been seen before in Uganda and the DRC. One of the list’s moderators wrote, “The involvement of cave-dwelling bats in transmission of the disease is compelling, but still circumstantial.” In the last case of Marburg disease reported in Uganda the death of one man was established as being linked to his skinning of a colobus monkey.

My interest is more than merely academic. I have been to the cave several times, each time with up to a dozen students, both Canadians and Ugandans, as we have studied the human x wildlife x livestock interface. Our students, seen here at the cave entrance, not only see a seething mass of bats, but there is at least one cave-dwelling python. Packed lunches, as it were.

An African Fish eagle seems to have taken up residence nearby, abandoning his more normal diet for a guaranteed lunch-on-the–wing . At least when I have visited one of these magnificent birds is usually hanging out with 15 metres of the cave entrance. The one shown here had just taken a fish in the Okavango swamp.

In other parts of Africa Egyptian Fruit bats are known to harbour filoviruses, the group to which MHF belongs. (Marburgvirus, fruit bats - W. Africa 23 Aug 2007: ProMED-mail.

If the Marburg and Maragambo bat link is clearly established the cave might fall off our list of places to visit.

The list reports very frequently, sometimes as much as three times a week, on infectious diseases of animals (including humans) from around the world. Avian ‘flu is a hot one right now, anthrax features with great regularity, but the moderators play no favourites, and anything is up for report, with pithy comments where needed. Subscribers are invited to add comments when they feel inclined

For another way to find out what ProMED can do, especially for those who enjoy a good read, I can recommend The Eleventh Plague by Dr. John S. Marr and John Baldwin. This novel is based on the efforts of a mass murderer to terrorize with the threat of a new plague, an eleventh, as he causes havoc by killing off people with horrifying ease in ways that mimic the Biblical plagues of Egypt. The authors show the world-wide power of ProMED and its subscribers as they race to solve the riddle before it is too late. Any more and I’ll be giving away too much of the story, but the dedication is important. It reads, in part, “This book is dedicated to (these) scientists (several groups are named) and to ProMED-mail.”

Ryan commented on this posting and I have replied in the comments box, but I think it may be worth adding here as well, in case a reader does not want to go to comments.

I should have added, in the original, that Marburg virus is in the same family as the better-known Ebola virus, and produces about the same effects. Ebola has not only been linked to many deaths in people, but has caused wide-spread epidemics in great apes. Dr. Jane Goodall told me how an acquaintance of hers who studies gorillas has lost her entire study group to this scourge, not once, not twice, but three times!

5 comments:

Ryan said...

Great read

jerry said...

Thanks Ryan,
I should have added, in the original, that Marburg virus is in the same family as the better-known Ebola virus, and produces about the same effects. Ebola has not only been linked to many deaths in people, but has caused wide-spread epidemics in great apes. Dr. Jane Goodall told me how an acquaintance of hers who studies gorillas has lost her entire study group to this scourge, not once, not twice, but three times!

Anonymous said...

Pleasse have a look at the recently published paper:

Amman, B. R., Carroll, S. A., Reed, Z. D., Sealy, T. K., Balinandi, S., Swanepoel, R., . . . Towner, J. S. (2012). Seasonal pulses of Marburg virus circulation in juvenile Rousettus aegyptiacus bats coincide with periods of increased risk of human infection. PLoS Pathogens, 8(10), e1002877. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002877

Anonymous said...

Please have a look at this paper - I think it's probably best not to visit the cave with your students.....


Amman, B. R., Carroll, S. A., Reed, Z. D., Sealy, T. K., Balinandi, S., Swanepoel, R., . . . Towner, J. S. (2012). Seasonal pulses of Marburg virus circulation in juvenile Rousettus aegyptiacus bats coincide with periods of increased risk of human infection. PLoS Pathogens, 8(10), e1002877. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1002877

Jerry Haigh said...

Thank you for your comment. My Uganda program stopped after I retired, and I htink that the cave is now off the tourist curcuit after I alerted the Ugandan folks about this horror story from Holland. This interesting thing about your work is the seasonal fluctuations.