After months of speculation, scientists may be closer to finding the link which triggered the massive Ebola outbreak. Guinea resident, Emile Ouamouno, a two year old boy who is believed to be the first Ebola victim, may have been infected by playing in a hollow tree that was occupied by a colony of fruit bats; species known to carry the virus.
Researchers from EMBO Molecular Medicine gathered information while on a trip to the boys’ village in Meliandou, in an effort to locate the source of the outbreak. During their month long expedition, which began in April of this year, Dr. Fabian Leendertz and colleagues found a large tree stump situated about 50m from Emile’s home. Locals reported that, Emile, who passed away in December 2013, frequently played there.
The tree eventually burnt down in March 2014, and while villagers sought to keep the dead bats for food, they were forced to throw them out due to a government ban on bush meat consumption. Since previous tests have shown Ebola traces in this type of bat, scientists proceeded to review the bat ash samples from the tree, and found these animals had the same DNA specifics that are associated with fruit bats. While the bat meat could of triggered Ebola, the scientists on the team believe it was Emile’s exposure to the bats, and their feces that caused the infection.
Dr. Leendertz, from the Robert Koch Institute in Germany, supports his theory by stating, “That is also obvious when you think about how many tonnes of bat meat is consumed every year. If more bats carried the virus, we would see outbreaks all the time.”
He believes extended research regarding this specific type of bat is needed. “They have moved into human settlements. They do not just live in the trees but also under the roofs of houses in the villages. The Ebola virus must jump through colonies from bat to bat, so we need to know more.”
However, destroying this species is not the answer, in his opinion. As he states, “We need to find ways to live together with the wildlife. These bats catch insects and pests, such as mosquitoes. They can eat about a quarter of their body weight in insects a day. Killing them would not be a solution. You would have more malaria.”
Dr. Leendertz and his team also tested approximately a hundred bats around Emile’s village, and no Ebola traces were found within these animals.