The 2014 Ebola epidemic was terrifying by all accounts. It was the deadliest outbreak of the disease since its discovery in 1976 with nearly 30,000 cases worldwide, incurring the highest toll on West African nations. Even the United States did not manage to escape unscathed with 4 cases domestically. Since December 21st, 2014, North America has had no new deaths, however West Africa continues to battle an active outbreak. In addition to the relatively easy transmission of the disease (through direct contact with blood or bodily fluids of a symptomatic patient), the prognosis is typically bleak. The virus boasts a 25-90% fatality rate and currently no Ebola-specific treatment options are available. With the possibility of a larger, future epidemic looming, scientists have returned to the source of the disease in order to potentially find a cure.
The exact source? Unknown. Yet, all signs seem to point to a small, local species of insect-eating bat.
The Ebola virus is zoonotic, meaning the disease utilizes nonhuman animals as hosts. Yet, unsuccessful culturing of the live virus within cell culture of bats led to some incredible detective work by Fabian Leendertz and his team from the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin. They were able to hypothesize and corroborate that the first human victim was a child from a small village in Meliandou, Guinea. The young boy and his family frequently washed their clothes in a river near a hollow tree that housed many species of bats. Playing near the tree, the toddler could that played with an infected bat or become exposed to its feces.
Nonetheless, Leendertz and his team admit that the details are suggestive and they were unable to isolate the virus in local bat populations. Thus far, their primary evidence is testimony and interviewing, indicating that further sampling of bat species will be essential to conclusively solve this mystery.
“Bat-filled tree may have been ground zero for the Ebola epidemic” http://news.sciencemag.org/africa/2014/12/bat-filled-tree-may-have-been-ground-zero-ebola-epidemic
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