Mystery killer disease may be spread by vampire bats
A mysterious illness has killed at least 38 people in a remote patch of South American rain forest in recent months. Most, if not all, of the dead are Warao, an indigenous tribe native to north-eastern Venezuela.
The nation's health authorities are just beginning to tackle the disease, while early indications may point to bat-transmitted rabies, according to The New York Times.
However, without epidemiological studies and confirmatory lab work, that conclusion remains speculative, says Charles Rupprecht, a tropical disease expert at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. "One would hope that at least there is a proper field investigation going on," he tells New Scientist.
Rabies outbreaks, often spread by infected vampire bats, are not unheard of in South America, says Hervé Bourhy, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France. Yet they account for a fraction of the 50,000 to 60,000 rabies deaths worldwide each year, most of them in Asia and Africa and spread by dogs, he says.