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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 1 (2011 Deadline)

Defining the ecology of the Nipah virus outbreaks in Bangladesh: Identifying additional potential foodborne and livestock transmission routes   

PI: Muhammed Salah Uddin Khan, ICDDR
US Partner: Peter Daszak, EcoHealth Alliance Inc
Project dates: June 2012 - March 2016
 
Project Overview
 
Nipah virus (NiV) is an emerging zoonotic virus (a virus transmitted to humans from animals) that causes high mortality in humans. In addition to human-to-human transmission, epidemiological studies have identified another possible transmission pathway, namely from fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family to humans when people drink contaminated date palm sap. Human NiV cases in Bangladesh have been found to be seasonal, coinciding with the date palm harvesting season (November to March), and consumption of date palm wine appears to serve as a major portal for infection due to contamination of palm sap from contact with urine or saliva from infected fruit bats. 
 

Bat1

Rats2

A bat licking sap from the shaved part of a date palm tree (Photo courtesy Dr. Khan).Two rats licking sap from the shaved part of a date palm tree( Photo courtesy Dr. Khan).
In addition to foodborne transmission pathways, animals other than bats may play a role in transmission. The project team has previously studied livestock during outbreak investigations, and as they expand their work under the current PEER grant they will pursue the hypothesis that multiple species of animals (including dogs, cats, cattle, goats, horses, and pigs) may acquire and spread Nipah infection during an outbreak. The Bangladeshi and U.S. researchers will develop sampling strategies and analytical approaches to assess the risk of infection via livestock and food-borne routes. In order to better understand the various possible routes of NiV transmission, this project will involve screening domestic, peri-domestic, and feral animals in a NiV outbreak to look for evidence of NiV infection. Furthermore, the researchers will look at bats’ date palm sap drinking behavior year round, in the locations where harvesters collect and ferment date palm sap for wine production. Beyond its research aspects, this project will also provide training in NiV surveillance, field sampling techniques, biosafety practices, and outbreak response for veterinarians under the Bangladeshi Department of Livestock Services, Ministry of Agriculture, and the Forestry Department.
 
Summary of Recent Activities
 
The project continued to conduct extensive data gathering activities through the final year of the project. In the three years of project activity, the team was able to collect a total of 1016 tree nights of observation which led to a recorded total of 42,456 bats of which 1,172 were Pteropus, 39,944 were non-Pteropus, and 1,340 were unidentified bats. The team also collected serum samples from 400 domestic (cattle, goat, horse) and 360 peri-domestic animals (rats, house shrews, cats, and dogs) from the Faridpur and Naogaon regions. Additionally, the team was able to conduct an outbreak investigation at six different Nipah outbreak sites (Natore, Guibandha, Nauga, Rajshahi, Faridpur, Madaripur) during the winter of 2016 and sampled bat roosts from those sites. All recordings and samples were reconciled to determine the seasonality of bats’ feeding behavior in relation to the seasonality of Nipah virus transmission to humans in Bangladesh.

Despite the end of the project, the team is finalizing a paper based on their data collection and results for an internationally recognized journal. They are also in the process of identifying a new lab to test animal samples for the Nipah virus antibody in order to continue the work begun under this project.
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