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Ebola Epidemic Traced to Exposure to Bats

Researchers rule out larger wildlife as the source of infection

TUESDAY, Dec. 30, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The Ebola epidemic in West Africa may have started with virus-infected bats, according to research published online Dec. 30 in EMBO Molecular Medicine.

Ebola epidemics are zoonotic in origin, spreading to humans through contact with bats or larger wildlife, according to researchers in Germany. But their investigation ruled out larger wildlife as the source of the 2014 outbreak, which began in the Guinean village of Meliandou. "We monitored the large mammal populations close to the index village Meliandou in southeastern Guinea and found no evidence for a concurrent outbreak," study leader Fabian Leendertz, D.V.M., Ph.D., from the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, said in an institute news release.

The research was conducted by a multidisciplinary team of researchers. Over a four-week field mission in Guinea last April, the researchers examined human exposure to bats. They also surveyed local wildlife and collected sample bats in Meliandou and nearby forests. Interviews with local residents revealed that direct contact with fruit bats through hunting and eating meat is common in the affected regions of Africa. But the researchers determined that fruit bats are not the likely source of the outbreak.

The first case of infection in Meliandou was a 2-year-old boy. Food-related transmission would have affected adults before or at the same time as the boy, the researchers explained. However, a large colony of free-tailed insectivorous bats lived in a hollow tree near the toddler's home. Villagers reported that children played in and around the tree, which could have led to significant exposure to bats. This type of bat in particular -- the free-tailed insectivorous bat -- may be a plausible source of transmission, the researchers determined.

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