India: Scientists use machine learning to find bat species with Nipah virus

This year’s outbreak of Nipah virus in Kerala, which follows one that occurred in 2018, has turned the focus back on bats; the hosts of the virus. An international group of scientists has identified the bat species with the potential to host the Nipah virus using machine learning.

Based on the traits of bats to carry the virus, researchers pointed out that more bat species in India may be reservoirs of Nipah than the only one confirmed so far.

“One of our major findings is that until now the Nipah virus presence in India was known from only one species of fruit bat – the Indian flying fox. However, our analysis reveals that at least 11 species of bats in India could be carriers of Nipah,” P.O. Nameer, head of the Centre for Wildlife Studies at the College of Forestry, Kerala Agricultural University, and a member of the research team, told India Science Wire.

The machine learning analysis is based on already published scientific studies from around the world; no samples were actually tested, but that doesn’t come in the way of the findings, which are important from the public health point of view.

“Since Nipah’s 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,” Nameer added.

The machine’s algorithm could identify bat species already known to carry Nipah with 83% accuracy. It also identified six other species in Asia, Australia and Oceana with traits that make their bodies conducive to hosting the virus. Four of these species also occur in India, two of which are found in Kerala.

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