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NCBS Press Statement: 3rd February 2020

This press release is in reference to media reports that grossly misrepresent the facts concerning a study of bats in Nagaland. We are issuing this statement to correct the record, in the public interest. We strongly appeal to the media, stakeholders, and the public, to only obtain information from reliable and verified sources, and to help prevent the spread of misinformation and panic during a global public health crisis.

Background on the science: Bats are major reservoirs of novel zoonotic diseases, which are infectious diseases that can jump from animals to humans. The 2018 Nipah virus outbreak in India is thought to have originated from bats; similarly, diseases such as Coronavirus and Ebola are thought to have originated in wild populations. Such diseases are a major threat to public health. It is important to understand where outbreaks are likely to occur ahead of time, so resources can be rapidly mobilized when required. An important part of this preparedness is to characterize the natural types of immune-system antibodies that are prevalent in wild populations of bats. This is especially important where bats come in close contact with humans, as is the case in Nagaland due to traditional hunting practices.

Details of the study: Researchers at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) have been studying bat antibodies in Nagaland since 2012. The Programme in Emerging Infectious Diseases of the Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School (Duke-NUS) has been studying bat populations across Southeast Asia, including in Singapore and Cambodia. In 2017, NCBS and Duke-NUS entered into a collaboration in which researchers based at NCBS collected samples of serum from bats and humans. These samples were tested at NCBS using the technologies supplied by Duke-NUS. The test results were shared with the Duke-NUS team, to compare with the data obtained from their Southeast Asian studies. This study was published in Oct 2019 in a paper entitled “Filovirus-reactive antibodies in humans and bats in Northeast India imply zoonotic spillover”. It appeared in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, a highly regarded peer reviewed open-access journal whose articles are available without any subscription fee, to all readers.

Researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology were not directly involved in the study. They were listed co-authors ONLY because they supplied reagents critical to the study to Duke-NUS. This is standard practice for scientific authorship.

The corresponding author of the study is affiliated to Duke-NUS. Therefore, the funding statement of the paper mentions funding obtained by Duke-NUS from the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). NCBS is not a direct recipient of research funds from DTRA.

No biological samples or infectious agents were transferred into or out of India, and this study has NO connection with Coronaviruses.

The documentation regarding this study is transparently and freely available in the public domain, including at the following link to the published paper: Filovirus-reactive antibodies in humans and bats in Northeast India imply zoonotic spillover.