Has the deadly Ebola virus or something like it spread from Africa to Asia?
From a press release on the website of New York City-based non-profit EcoHealth Alliance (formerly Wildlife Trust until 2010) this past Wednesday:
EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit organization that focuses on local conservation and global health issues, released new research on Ebola virus in fruit bats in the peer reviewed journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, a monthly publication by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study found Ebola virus antibodies circulating in ~4% of the 276 bats scientists screened in Bangladesh. These results suggest that Rousettus fruit bats are a reservoir for Ebola, or a new Ebola-like virus in South Asia. The study extends the range of this lethal disease further than previously suspected to now include mainland Asia.
(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)
So should we be concerned about Ebola or an Ebola-like virus playing a role in the next pandemic? David Quammen, author of the recently-released book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, and a contributing writer to National Geographic Magazine, wrote in an opinion piece on The New York Times website back on September 22, 2012:
Yes, there probably will be a Next Big One, they say. It will most likely be caused by a virus, not by a bacterium or some other kind of bug. More specifically, we should expect an RNA virus (specifically, one that bears its genome as a single molecular strand), as distinct from a DNA virus (carrying its info on the reliable double helix, less prone to mutation, therefore less variable and adaptable). Finally, this RNA virus will almost certainly be zoonotic — a pathogen that emerges from some nonhuman animal to infect, and spread among, human beings…
Ebola is a zoonosis. The Ebola viruses (there are five known species) abide inconspicuously in some as yet unidentified creature or creatures native to Central African forests, spilling over occasionally to kill gorillas and chimps and people.
Still, Quammen is skeptical that the next pandemic will stem from the Ebola virus. He added:
Nor is it likely to be Ebola, which is transmissible from human to human through direct contact with bodily fluids, but can be stopped by preventing such contact. Furthermore, Ebola burns so hotly in its victims, incapacitating and killing so quickly, that it is poorly adapted to achieve global dispersal. Only one human has ever been known to leave Africa with a rampant Ebola virus infection — and that was a Swiss woman, evacuated in 1994 to a hospital in Basel. If you want to be grateful for something today, be grateful for that: Ebola doesn’t fly.
Still, I worry about South Asia. Especially Bangladesh, where those fruit bats were screened and one of the ten most populous countries on the planet.
You can read the entire EcoHealth Alliance press release here.
By Christopher E. Hill, Editor
Survival And Prosperity (www.survivalandprosperity.com)
Quammen, David. “Anticipating the Next Pandemic.” The New York Times. 22 Sep. 2012. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/opinion/sunday/anticipating-the-next-pandemic.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). 19 Jan. 2013.
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