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What diseases are spread by bats around the world?

Even though rabies and histoplasmosis can be found all over the world, some diseases associated with bats are found exclusively in certain regions of the world.

One of these diseases is Marburg hemorrhagic fever, which is found exclusively in Africa. Past outbreaks have shown that Marburg hemorrhagic fever kills up to 90 percent of those infected. While the natural host had for years been unknown, new research suggests that fruit bats are a natural source of this virus, and the virus has been isolated repetitively from fruit bats in Uganda.

The same may be true for Ebola hemorrhagic fever. The virus that causes this disease is often referred to as the "cousin" of Marburg virus, since they are the only distinct viruses that belong to a group of viruses known as filoviruses. Like Marburg, Ebola is highly fatal and is found mostly in Africa. Recent studies indicate that bats are likely to be a natural source of this virus, although no Ebola virus has been isolated from bats.

Two other viruses—Nipah (which causes Nipah virus encephalitis) and Hendra (which causes Hendra virus disease)—are also associated with bats. Research suggests that Hendra virus is associated with fruit bats (commonly called flying foxes) in Australia. Nipah and related viruses are also associated with the same group of bats in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa, although outbreaks of disease in humans have so far been limited to Malaysia, Singapore, India and Bangladesh. Both viruses can cause severe respiratory and neurologic disease in humans.

Another group of viruses known as coronaviruses have been detected in multiple species of bats. Coronavirus infection can sometimes cause mild respiratory illness in humans, but these viruses were also implicated in the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Southeast Asia. While bats do not carry or transmit SARS, research has linked coronaviruses to bats in countries all over the world.

In addition, Lyssaviruses have been discovered on every inhabited continent. This group of viruses causes rabies, in addition to other diseases that can be fatal to humans.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.