Looking to identify the source of the Nipah virus that has caused one confirmed infection in Kerala this month, scientists are examining if it came from a guava he had eaten (The Indian Express, June 12). The reasoning is that the guava itself could have been infected by a fruit bat. The Nipah virus is zoonotic — it spreads primarily between animals and humans — and fruit bats are known to spread it.
Fruit bats, as opposed to insectivorous bats, survive largely on a diet of fruit, which they locate with their sense of smell (insectivorous bats locate their prey through echolocation, or by locating the source of the echoes of their own sound). Fruit bats belong to the Pteropodidae family; those in the Pteropus genus within this family are natural hosts for the Nipah virus. Such bats are widely found in South and South East Asia, and are also known as flying foxes.
After last year’s Nipah outbreak in Kerala, which claimed 17 lives, studies by the National Institute of Virology had concluded that the virus was first transmitted from fruit bats identified as Pteropus spp. (the suffix indicates that the exact species within that genus has not been confirmed).