Preventing the outbreak of a zoonotic disease (a disease transmitted from animals to humans) requires that researchers and public health officials understand the biogeography of the animals involved in the spread of the disease.
"By day, some of the most dangerous animals in the world lurk deep inside this cave [in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda]. Come night, the tiny fruit bats whoosh out, tens of thousands of them at a time, filling the air with their high-pitched chirping before disappearing into the black sky. The bats carry the deadly Marburg virus, as fearsome and mysterious as its cousin Ebola. Scientists know that the virus starts in these animals, and they know that when it spreads to humans it is lethal — Marburg kills up to 9 in 10 of its victims, sometimes within a week. But they don’t know much about what happens in between. ... No one is sure where they go each night. So a team of scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traveled here to track their movements in the hopes that spying on their nightly escapades could help prevent the spread of one of the world’s most dreaded diseases. ... Their task is to glue tiny GPS trackers on the backs of 20 bats so they can follow their movements. ... If the animals are feeding on particular fruit trees, that information could identify communities most at risk and help prevent future outbreaks. ... U.S. officials are so concerned about Marburg becoming a global threat that the CDC is seeking funding from the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency to cover the cost of the bat trackers, which are about $1,000 each. ... [CDC scientists] discovered a decade ago that this ... fruit bat is a natural reservoir for Marburg. That means the virus can live and grow inside the bats without harming the animal, and be excreted in its urine, feces or saliva. By comparison, more than 40 years and over two dozen outbreaks after Ebola emerged in Central Africa, researchers still don’t know what animal or animals carry it, much less how it spreads to people."
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