By Abby Phillip
Street artist Stephen Doe paints an educational mural to inform people about the symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus in Monrovia, the Liberian capital. (Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images)
Until this year’s epidemic, Ebola did not exist in West Africa. Now with nearly 2,300 people dead from the virus, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, scientists still don’t fully understand how Ebola arrived from Central Africa, where outbreaks of this strain of the virus had occurred in the past.
A new model by Oxford University, published in the journal eLife, takes a look at the most likely explanation — that Ebola’s animal reservoir, fruit bats, could spread the disease in the animal kingdom and to humans through the dense forest that spans 22 countries.
Several species of fruit bats are suspected — though not confirmed — to carry Ebola without showing symptoms. Unlike humans and other animals who are likely to die from an Ebola infection, bats can carry the disease and infect other bats and animals, such as monkeys and rodents through migratory activities.
Bats along with other animals, such as monkeys, are also one form of “bush meat” consumed in some African countries where there have been reports of Ebola outbreaks. And though consuming cooked bush meat is unlikely to spread the virus, hunting or preparing raw meat for consumption increases the likelihood that an infection might occur.