Ebola: is bushmeat behind the outbreak?

Ebola: is bushmeat behind the outbreak?

According to the Centre of International Forestry Research, an estimated five million tonne of bushmeat is consumed in Africa’s Congo Basin per year.

The first victim of Ebola as a result of consuming bushmeat has been traced to a two year old child, dubbed Child Zero, in the village of Gueckedou in south-eastern Guinea, who died on 4th December, 2013. The family stated that they hunted two bat species which were carriers to the Ebola virus.

Bats as hosts?

Bats may be delicacies but they can host deadly diseases. Studies have shown that bats carry a host of viruses and some species of fruit bats can be Ebola virus carriers. The fact that it doesn’t harm them in any way makes them the perfect hosts for the virus. Bats can spread the virus to humans as well as non-human primates via droppings or fruits they have touched. In order for a virus to spread, it needs to gain access to cells in which it can replicate itself. This access can be gained if one comes in contact with say infected blood.

It is still, however, unclear how the virus “jumps” from bats to humans as there is a species barrier between them that is difficult to evade. Generally there are intermediate species involved, primates like chimpanzees for example, yet the evidence suggests humans are getting the virus directly from bats.

Most people buy bushmeat from markets where it has already been treated and cooked. As such, it is the bushmeat hunters who are the most in danger as they have maximum exposure. However rare or unexplainable the phenomenon may be, it is not entirely impossible or so easily containable.

Banning bushmeat

Banning the hunting, selling, cooking, eating, etc of bushmeat may have reverse effects as it would only result in pushing the trade underground. Banning bushmeat may also not work because of cultural reasons. Hunting bushmeat is a long standing tradition while not eating meat would mean that the person hasn’t had a proper meal.

In Ghana, where fruit bats are hunted widely, the hunters reported several techniques they use to capture their prey. Many of these techniques bring them so close to handling the bats that there is definite contact with blood including scratches and bites.

 

False alarm?

The risks from eating bushmeat exist and fruit bats definitely contain the Ebola virus, yet the studies show that the risk is low.

People eating bushmeant don’t necessarily see the risks of eating it as they feel it is “healthy.” Bat bushmeat trade in Ghana is high; almost 100,000 bats killed and sold every year. And though the consumption is approximately 100,000 bats, there have been no cases of Ebola in Ghana.

Researchers have also found that there are very few bats in entire populations that have a detectable strain of the virus present. However, given that Ebola originates from animals, it is not a stretch to assume that bushmeat may be a cause for the outbreak.

Doctor Vista Healthcare Resource

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