Hepatitis B virus (HBV, illustrated) is a substantial human pathogen. WHO estimates that there are now 240,000,000 individuals chronically infected with HBV worldwide, of which 25% will die from chronic liver disease or hepatocellular carcinoma. The hepatitis B virus vaccine is highly effective at preventing infection. Because there are no known animal reservoirs of the virus, it is believed that HBV could be globally eradicated. The recent finding of HBV in bats raises the possibility of zoonotic introduction of the virus.
Serum and liver samples from 3,080 bats from Panama, Brazil, Gabon,
Ghana, Germany, Papua New Guinea, and Australia were screened for
HBV-like sequences by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Ten positive
specimens were found from three bat species: Uroderma bilobatum from Panama, and Hipposideros cf. ruber and Rhinolophus alcyone
from Gabon. The complete viral genome sequence was determined for 9 of
the positive specimens. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that the bat
viruses form three different lineages, and that each virus differs by at
least 35% from known hepadnaviruses.