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DEADLY AUSTRALIAN VIRUS TRACED TO FRUIT BATS

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A deadly virus that has killed people and horses has finally been traced back to its host species: the fruit bat, a huge mammal whose wingspan can reach a yard in width.

The strain of morbillivirus - from the family of viruses that includes measles, canine distemper and cattle plague - has been found in the bats, sometimes called flying foxes, health official Ian Douglas said Friday. Douglas is the principal veterinary officer at Queensland's Animal and Plant Health Service in Brisbane.The virus has been a puzzle since it first appeared in horses, and then killed a horse trainer and a veterinarian, in 1994.

Two horses 500 miles apart contracted equine morbillivirus and spread it to other horses.

A horse trainer soon fell ill with the virus and died. A veterinarian was the second casualty. A third man who contracted the disease survived.

Though Queensland has millions of fruit bats, there is little likelihood of humans catching the disease directly from them, Douglas said.