Bats Carry Deadly Viruses Triggering AIDS-Like Disease to Wipe Out Koalas

Bats Carry Deadly Viruses Triggering AIDS-Like Disease to Wipe Out Koalas

Bats are carrying a family of deadly viruses that could trigger an AIDS-like disease in koalas and wipe out the already-vulnerable population.  

The viruses that have been found in bats can trigger the koala retrovirus called KoRV, which exposes them to cancer, chlamydia, infertility, blindness and kidney failure.

Scientists believe bats transmitting an infectious retrovirus could be a greater threat to the koala population than the recent bushfires, which killed thousands of the marsupials and destroyed hundreds of their colonies.

Retroviruses, such as HIV, are a type of virus that uses a special enzyme to translate its genetic information into DNA.

That DNA can be integrated into the host cell’s DNA which causes the infection.

Burnet Institute research officer Joshua Hayward said bats could also transmit the retrovirus to other animals.

He said this may explain how KoRV-related viruses made its way to Australia from Southeast Asia.

‘It highlights the role of bats as really important reservoirs of ­viruses that can be transmitted to other animal species,’ Dr Hayward said.

‘Our nation is trying to conserve koala populations decimated by the fires, but how can they be protected from viruses? The existence and spread of KoRV and other infectious threats is something likely to concern conservation scientists.’

Dr Hayward said bats were able to host the viruses, including Ebola, Hendra and coronaviruses, but remain unaffected by them.

He also said bats transmit the deadly viruses through their droppings and bodily fluids.

Burnet Institute Head of Life Sciences, and President of the Australasian Virology Society, Professor Gilda Tachedjian, said: ‘The further we encroach into bat habitats, the greater the chance of a spillover of viruses from bats to animals and humans, so the identification and characterisation of what viruses might be out there is really important.’

Dr Hayward said the study highlights the need for ongoing research into the impact of the spill over of viruses between species, and how we might harness bat antiviral mechanisms to prevent and control viral infections.

This study was led by Burnet Institute and the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (formerly the Australian Animal Health Laboratory), Health and Biosecurity Business Unit CSIRO.

Australia’s koala population was estimated to have fallen to 80,000 before the recent bushfires, in which tens of thousands are believed to have died.

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