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Beware the bats

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10:30am, June 5, 2007

From Toronto, at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology

Fruit bats in Bangladesh regularly trigger small outbreaks of Nipah virus, a pathogen that often causes measleslike symptoms and sometimes leads to brain inflammation and death, say researchers.

For 6 straight years, Andrew Dobson of Princeton University has recorded Nipah outbreaks in villages in Bangladesh. This year, his team has seen three emergences of the virus, with 5 to 10 cases per outbreak.

The bats feast on fruits that children later collect—even if the fruit is half-eaten—and sell to vendors who blend them into drinks. "Then, you have a nice Nipah-flavored beverage," says Dobson. Because the country's largely Muslim population shuns alcohol, purchasers drink the beverage before it can ferment, which would kill the virus.

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