Ebola’s Ground Zero Tracked Down

  • Insect-eating bats that inhabited a hollow tree in a remote village in Guinea may have been the source of the world’s biggest Ebola epidemic
  • More than 20,000 cases of Ebola, with at least 7,800 deaths, have been recorded by the World Health Organization (WHO) since a two-year-old boy died in the village of Meliandou in December 2013.
  • Reporting in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine , scientists led by Fabian Leendertz at Berlin’s Robert Koch Institute delved into the circumstances surrounding this first fatality.
  • The finger of suspicion points at insectivorous free-tailed bats called Mops condylurus  that lived in a hollow tree 50 metres from the boy’s home
  • The Ebola virus holes up in a natural haven, also called a reservoir, among wild animals which are not affected by it.
  • The virus can infect humans who come into contact with this source directly, or indirectly through contact with animals that have fallen sick from it.
  • Highly contagious, the virus is then passed among humans through contact with body fluids.
  • A known reservoir is the fruit bat  called  Epomophorus wahlbergi , a widespread tropical African species that in some countries is killed for food, offering an infection pathway to hunters and butchers of the mammal.
  • But the role of fruit bats in the current outbreak has never been confirmed
  • In contrast, free-tailed bats, a cousin species, have been found in lab tests to be able to carry the virus but not fall sick with it.
  • The German team said evidence that this species helped unleash the present epidemic was strong but not 100 percent.