NEW YORK – July 12, 2010 –
Wildlife Trust, the global conservation health organization, announced the discovery of a previously unknown pathogen that may offer insight into the origins of the Hepatitis C virus. The virus, tentatively named GBV-D is related to a group of GB viruses, previously only known to occur in monkeys and humans. Dr. Jonathan Epstein, Associate Vice President of Conservation Medicine Programs at Wildlife Trust, reveals in a paper published in PLoS Pathogens that the new viral discovery is part of a large family of viruses, called Flaviviridae, which includes the Hepatitis C virus, GB viruses and others. Viral hepatitis affects more than 500 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of liver failure and liver cancer.
Wildlife Trust scientists are actively surveying wildlife species, such as bats, for viruses that may threaten human health in key regions all over the world that are highly vulnerable to disease emergence. The team was actively testing bats for the deadly Nipah virus that infects and kills people each year in Bangladesh. It is estimated that infectious diseases lead to 13 million human fatalities per year. Additionally, over three-quarters of emerging infectious diseases are a result of zoonotic pathogens.
Bangladesh is a notable emerging disease hot spot due to its dense population and the close association between wildlife and humans. Scientists tested 100 giant fruit bats, Pteropus giganteus, in the Faridpur region of the country. “Bangladesh is densely populated and large colonies of bats roost in close proximity to people. We know from studying Nipah virus that bat viruses can be transmitted to people through food-borne pathways,” said Dr. Jonathan Epstein.
Bats are known to be the reservoir for many zoonotic viruses including rabies, Ebola, Marburg, Hendra, Nipah, and SARS. Wildlife Trust is working to predict and prevent emerging diseases by actively testing wildlife in critical hot spots around the world. “The Indian subcontinent and South Asia are areas where we are ardently working to identify the next possible pandemic disease,” stated Dr. Peter Daszak, President of Wildlife Trust.
In the lab, the bat blood samples were analyzed using high-throughput pyrosequencing – an emerging platform for DNA analysis. The technology has helped scientists improve genomic sequencing and enabled Dr. Epstein to discover the new GBV-D virus. “It’s essential to understand if and how viruses are being transmitted from animals to people in an outbreak setting such as SARS, but it’s equally important to identify the natural reservoir of the virus, which may not be directly infecting people, to ensure that more outbreaks don’t happen in the future,” said Dr. Epstein. “With our preliminary research it’s too early to tell if GBV-D could cause disease in human populations our next steps will require testing people that come in contact with these bats to gauge possible infections.”