AI to determine Bat species believed to transmit Nipah virus to humans

The Nipah Virus, which is responsible for the Nipah outbreak, believed to be transmitted to human through Bats.

Indian flying fox (Photo: Ausraful Islam)
Indian flying fox (Photo: Ausraful Islam)

Nipah, a deadly virus responsible for recent Nipah outbreak in Kerala following one that occurred in 2018, generally transmitted to human from fruits or date palm contaminated by body fluids of bats. Along with bats, domestic pigs have been identified as “bringing host” in some cases.

Now, an international group of scientists have identified bat species with the potential to host Nipah virus using machine learning a form of artificial intelligence and based on traits of bats that carry the virus, researchers highlighted that more bat species are host to Nipah in India than one which is confirmed so far.

While talking to India science wire, Dr.P.O Nameer, Head, Centre for Wildlife Studies, College of Forestry, Kerala Agricultural University, and a member of the research team mentioned, “One of our major findings is that until now the Nipah virus presence in India was known from only one species of fruit bats – the Indian Flying Fox. However, our analysis reveals that at least 11 species of bats in India could be carriers of Nipah”. He further added, ”Since Nipah presence is now suspected from more species of bats, including some species of insect bats, we need detailed studies by collecting samples. Such studies would help in taking necessary precautions by people and in reducing chances of possible outbreaks in future”.

The data analysis which covered 523 bat species and 48 traits such as foraging methods, diet, migration behaviors, geographic spread, reproduction, as well as environmental conditions considered around 31 bat species found in India and 11 of these, have found to host Nipah viruses in studies elsewhere. The algorithm which identified bat species already known to carry Nipah with 83% accuracy also identified six species in Asia, Australia, and Oceana that have traits which make them possible hosts of the virus. Four of these species also occur in India, two of are found in Kerala.

The researchers have cautioned in their study published in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases by saying “Our work provides a list of species to guide early surveillance and should not be taken as a definitive list of reservoirs. A series of further studies are required to triangulate on the reservoir hosts that pose a risk to humans”.

The research team included Raina K. Plowright, Daniel E. Crowley and Alex D. Washburne (Montana State University); Daniel J. Becker (University of Georgia, Athens); Barbara A. Han and Tao Huang (Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies); P.O. Nameer (Kerala Agricultural University) and Emily S. Gurley (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health).