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Published On: Tue, Aug 26th, 2014

Ebola: The conspiracy theories, the buck passing

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Ebola-VirusBy Ese Awhotu

..Tragic reminder, “75 percent of human diseases originate from animals-Junaidu

Professor Abdulkadir Junaidu, Dean, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto has revealed that 75% of human diseases were originated from animals circle, pointing out that the Ebola virus disease was one of the numerous diseases associated with animals.

Junaidu dropped this hint during a public lecture on Ebola organized by the Usman Danfodio

University Teaching Hospital, Sokoto held at the Sultan Maccido Institute of Quran and General Studies.

His call is in line with the global call for doubling of efforts in sensitizing people on the need to take precaution while handling domestic animals especially in rural areas.

Nigeria along with other West African countries continues the struggle to stem the deadly outbreak of Ebola in the region; scientists are racing to figure out where it came from. The outbreak came as a surprise because the strain that is killing people in urban areas in West Africa had previously struck people in rural, forested parts of Central Africa.

If researchers can figure out which animal carries Zaire Ebola virus, and how the virus made the leap to people in West Africa, they may be able to suggest strategies to prevent or contain future outbreaks.

The outbreak started last December in a village in the rainforest of eastern Guinea. At first, no one recognized the disease as Ebola. Symptoms of Ebola can resemble those of many other diseases, and Ebola had never been seen in West Africa before.

So far fruit bats have taken the brunt of the finger pointing as the possible source of the outbreak, says Kevin Olival, a disease ecologist at EcoHealth Alliance in New York City. Some of the evidence implicating bats comes from a study in the April Viruses by Olival and David Hayman of Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

The researchers mapped the ranges of fruit bat species that might carry Ebola or related viruses. Some of the bats’ ranges include both West African and Central African countries such as Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Ebola has appeared in the past. The finding opens the possibility that the virus could have traversed vast distances via bats.

Still, Olival says, “the evidence is scant that bats are to blame for the West African outbreak.”

Other animals may also pass along the disease. Great apes and species of forest-dwelling antelope may catch Ebola and infect hunters or anyone who eats tainted bush meat, he says.

Hoping to find the animal source, in April, Fabian Leendertz, an epidemiologist and disease ecologist at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, led a 17-member team to Guinea. The group

collaborated with ecologists who monitor forest animals and captured bats for testing. He declines to reveal his unpublished findings, but he says there were no obvious epidemics among animals that might have spread the Ebola virus to humans. “We didn’t stumble across any dead animals,” he says.

The species of Ebola known as Zaire Ebola virus has periodically plagued countries in Central Africa (tan) since the 1970s. Those outbreaks were usually confined to rural areas. Now, this strain of Ebola is killing people in urban centers in West African countries (red).

CDC, Redmal/iStockphoto, adapted by E. Otwell But that doesn’t rule out local animals as a source of the outbreak. Even though the team pulled together quickly and got its start just a month after the World Health Organization’s first alert on the outbreak, “We were still three months late,” Leendertz laments. “Many things may have changed in the meantime.”

According to a report by the Science news, Leendertz thinks one bad bush meat carcass may have sparked the current epidemic. Bats, great apes, other primates and antelopes known as duikers are commonly eaten but also are among the animals most likely to be infected with Ebola, he says. The Guinean government banned eating bush meat at the end of March, but by that time, the disease was already spreading among people.

In the case of bats, Olival says, people could have come into contact with an infected animal’s urine, feces or saliva. As West Africa rainforests are cleared to make way for farms and housing, people may have begun to interact more with bats because the animals may turn to houses as roosting places when trees are destroyed, Olival says.

If bats turn out to be the virus carriers, he says, “The right answer is never to kill all the bats.” That would be an ecological disaster because bats pollinate plants and devour insects. Bat hunts would also only increase human contact with potentially infected animals.

Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that bats in caves in Uganda, where, in 2007 and 2008, miners and tourists had contracted the related Marburg virus, give off more viruses during twice-yearly birthing seasons.

Most human cases of the disease coincided with those birthing seasons, the researchers reported in PLOS Pathogens in 2012. If fruit bats in West Africa follow a similar pattern, one way to avoid exposure to Ebola would be simply to steer clear of bats during birthing seasons, Olival says.

The Ebola epidemic may have started with a single interaction between a person and an infected bat or bush meat, but researchers agree that humans brought Ebola out of the rainforest to cities. People catch the virus after coming into contact with infected body fluids and then pass the disease on to others through close contact.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) last week in Rome told ministers of health and agriculture meeting in Indonesia that animal disease monitoring systems require sustained support and have a critical role to play in preventing human disease threats.

“Animal health remains one the weakest links in terms of how the world deals with disease risks,” FAO Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth said in remarks delivered at a meeting on the Global Health Security Agenda(GHSA) in Jakarta, Indonesia, attended by human and animal health authorities and experts from around the globe

According to Lubroth, the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a “tragic reminder” not only of the need for increased support for public health systems in the developing world, but also of the importance of ensuring that countries are able to monitor and respond to animal health diseases as well.

While curbing human-to-human transmission remains the most important focus in West Africa, the epidemic is thought to have started when the virus crossedover from infected wildlife into the human population.

Other recent outbreaks of diseases affecting humans — including avian influenza, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) — are believed to have had their start in animals. Indeed, an FAO report published last year highlighted that 70 percent of new infectious human diseases detected in recent decades are of animal origin.

“Zoonootic diseases that can make the jump from animals to humans are a real concern, but there is much that we can do before the jump occurs and outbreaks take place, causing loss of life and disrupting fragile livelihoods,” said Lubroth.

According to FAO in a statement posted on its website, there is a need to rethink how the international community provides global health support, with a new focus on investment in infrastructure, systems and capacities at the national level to help reduce the risks of such emergencies happening in the first place and increase the resilience of communities and health systems to respond when they do.

To support such a transition, FAO said along with its partners, are advocating what is known as the “One Health” approach, which looks at the interplay between environmental factors, animal health, and human health and brings human health professionals, veterinary specialists, sociologists, economists, and ecologists together to work on disease risks in a collaborative way.


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