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Ebola: research team says migrating fruit bats responsible for outbreak
The largest-ever outbreak of Ebola was triggered by a toddler's chance contact with a single infected bat, a team of international researchers will reveal, after a major investigation of the origins of the deadly disease now ravaging Guinea, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Nigeria.
A group of 17 European and African tropical disease researchers, ecologists and anthropologists spent three weeks talking to people and capturing bats and other animals near the village of Meliandoua in remote eastern Guinea, where the present epidemic appeared in December 2013. They have concluded that the disease was spread by colonies of migratory fruit bats. Their research is expected to be published in a major journal in the next few weeks.
Ebola risk unheeded as Guinea's villagers keep on eating fruit bats
Health workers struggle to separate myth from reality of Ebola as residents say abandoning tradition is out of the question
Smuggled Bushmeat Is Ebola's Back Door to America
Under U.S. Department of Agriculture rules, not a single African country is allowed to import any meat product, raw or processed. And for years now, U.S. health officials and legislators have been expressing concern over the steady flow of bushmeat illegally imported into the country. Internal documents show that from 2009 to 2013, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency confiscated over 69,000 different bushmeat items, with seizures ranging from dried bat to smoked monkey (see sidebar). And that’s likely a mere sliver compared with what actually gets into the U.S. At least one estimate puts the number at 15,000 pounds every month.
“Nobody knows” how much of the stuff gets into America, says Allard Blom of the World Wildlife Fund. “It’s anybody’s guess, really, because there’s very little control on the import of bushmeats. You’re looking here particularly at Fish and Wildlife Service [FWS], and they have very few agents that are working at these airports, and very few pieces of luggage are actually screened.”
To the foreign eye, it looks like a flattened, blackened lump of unidentifiable animal parts. To many Africans, however, bush meat — the cooked, dried or smoked remains of a host of wild animals, from rats and bats to monkeys — is not only the food of their forefathers, it is life-sustaining protein where nutrition is scarce.
And as it has been during past Ebola outbreaks, bush meat is once again suspected to have been the bridge that caused the deadly disease to go from the animal world to the human one. All it takes is a single transmission event from animal to human — handling an uncooked bat with the virus, for example — to create an epidemic. Human-to-human contact then becomes the primary source of infection.
In a 2012 study, researchers working with government officials at John F. Kennedy Airport in the borough of Queens, New York (and some smaller airports) tested confiscated bushmeat, including baboon, chimpanzee, mangabey, guenon, green monkey and cane rat. They found that the meat does not arrive alone; it carries with it many unseen microorganisms.
Smoked bushmeat may appear safe, but the flesh inside is still juicy—filled with blood, fresh tissue and more: Simian foamy virus and herpes viruses showed up in the samples of the confiscated meats. The researchers didn’t find Ebola, but they tested only a few samples.
Cooking meat thoroughly will generally kill all pathogens, including viruses and bacteria, but most of the bushmeat arriving in the U.S. has been just barely processed in order to keep it from rotting while being transported. “If you wanted to safely transport meat and not worry about pathogens, you wouldn’t smoke it,” says Amato. “It’s not a very efficient way of killing microorganisms.”
In addition, bushmeat may serve as a potential route for other diseases, “especially some of the livestock diseases, [like] hoof-and-mouth and African swine fever. Those can survive a very long time in a piece of meat,” says Bill Karesh, one of the authors of the 2012 study and a public health policy expert at EcoHealth Alliance. These and other pathogens could present dangers equally—or more—frightening than an Ebola outbreak.
In a 2007 report, the World Health Organization warned that infectious diseases are now emerging at a rapid and previously unseen rate. New viruses and bacteria keep appearing, while familiar pathogens, previously thought to have been suppressed, reemerge.
These old viruses and bacteria either change genetically, re-combine with other pathogens or adapt in a way that fools our immune systems, becoming newly empowered to ruin our bodies. Such was the case with the swine and bird flu outbreaks of the past decade.
Nearly 75 percent of these emerging infectious diseases come from animal species, and of those, the majority were in the wild. Better prediction and prevention of these emerging diseases requires closer monitoring of individuals who have a lot of contact with bushmeat to look for what Dr. Amesh Adalja, of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Center for Health Security, calls viral chatter.
Viral chatter, he explains, occurs when viruses jump from wild animals into people. Though it may feel as if viruses attack humans en masse in one big offensive, what’s really happening is a series of ongoing, tentative incursions. During these incursions, the viruses can mutate, becoming more easily transmitted, more deadly or both. Not every new virus we see in humans will cause sickness or symptoms, but by monitoring viral chatter, we could potentially uncover trends that might help prevent the spread of future viruses that do cause sickness, or worse.
If scientists had been monitoring viral chatter in the past, one tragic public health story may have developed quite differently. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) almost certainly was transferred from bushmeat. “We have an awful lot of evidence [that] this virus moved from chimpanzees to people,” says Amato. “The most likely way that move happened was because people ate chimpanzees.”
Epidemiologists believe that HIV is a descendent of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), which is found in primates like the sooty mangabey, which is indigenous—and hunted—in Western Africa. The virus likely began to infect humans first as SIV, then slowly gained the mutations that led, ultimately, to the shift to HIV.
“If people were monitoring these bushmeat hunters in Cameroon in the early 1900s, you might have seen SIV jumping into them before it became HIV,” Adalja says.
Such global viral forecasting is even more important today. With people traveling far and wide—and bushmeat reaching certain regions of the globe for the first time—more opportunities exist for the spread of viral diseases.
“The perfect example is China, where they’re harvesting lots of wildlife of all kinds, they’re storing it all on top of each other in warehouses and markets,” says Amato. “You’re sort of creating this very strange evolutionary environment where pathogens and other microorganisms that never would come into contact with each other are coming into contact with each other.”
These environments can encourage what’s called horizontal gene transfer, where genes from one virus move into another virus when they are infecting the same organism.
In the most frightening type of horizontal gene transfer, a robust but harmless virus could transfer its genetic propensity for resilience to a deadly but fragile virus, creating some new supervirus that might lead to a SARS-like epidemic.
It’s no coincidence that the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak was born in the live animal markets of southern China; the virus originated in bats, where it would have stayed permanently, except for the fact that in the markets infected bats were kept in cages near civets (a small cat-like mammal).
Humans didn’t eat the bats, but they did eat the civets. And at some point the disease moved from bat to civet to human, acquiring mutations along the way that enabled it to infect over 8,000 people in 37 different countries.
originally posted by: soficrow
a reply to: loam
Sure. Blame the bushmeat and "civilize" those poor Africans - because factory farmed chicken, beef and pork are just so superior. Not.
Just like bird flu was played to kill the mom and pop backyard poultry business in Asia - for corporate takeover - Ebola's getting played in Africa for the same agenda.
"We are not suggesting that people stop hunting altogether, which isn’t realistic,” said FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth. “But communities need clear advice on the need not to touch dead animals or to sell or eat the meat of any animal that they find already dead. They should also avoid hunting animals that are sick or behaving strangely, as this is another red flag.”
Fruit bats – usually eaten dried or in a spicy soup – are thought to be the most likely reservoir species for the virus, which they can carry without developing clinical signs of the disease, and should be avoided altogether, according to FAO.
“The virus is killed when meat is cooked at a high temperature or heavily smoked, but anyone who handles, skins or butchers an infected wild animal is at risk of contracting the virus,” Lubroth said.
FAO warns of fruit bat risk in West African Ebola epidemic
...FAO will help to assess the role of hunting in livelihoods with a view to finding healthier and more sustainable long-term livestock production alternatives to provide people with additional protein and income.
Straw-coloured fruit bats are a migratory species that live in colonies thousands or even millions strong on the edges of forests, towns and cities. Their range encompasses the tropical belt of Africa, and populations exist from Sudan south to Zambia. The species even reaches Nigeria and the Ivory Coast (well, their hotel menus at least…).
Eidolon helvum (African Straw-coloured Fruit-bat, Pale Xantharpy, Staw-coloured Flying Fox, Straw-coloured Fruit Bat)
…..Listed as Near Threatened because this species is in significant decline