#Ebola2014: Why the Huntsman is Important

Two days ago, all 7 suspected and confirmed cases of Ebola in Liberia could be traced back to Guinea [1, 2].

But Case #8 is different.

Current media coverage from Liberia reports that Case #8 was an isolated incident; he hadn’t recently traveled to or been in contact with anyone from Guinea [3].

But he was a huntsman [3].

Given the region’s consumption of bat- and bush- meat, it’s likely that he contracted the disease while handling the remains of an infected animal [4]. Laurie Garrett – Pulitzer Prize winner and author of I Heard the Sirens Scream, Betrayal of Trust, and The Coming Plague – tweeted:

 

I agree with her completely. To my untrained eye, all signs point to ecosystem disruption.

Like Guinea, not one case of Ebola was documented in Liberia until 2014 [5]. Something must have happened.

Several days ago, I wrote an article addressing this sentiment. Zaire ebolavirus – the strain currently touted as the causative agent in West Africa’s Ebola outbreak – has historically been constrained to Central Africa [5]. I proposed that industrial logging in the Central African Rainforest may be to blame. The three bat species that are considered to be asymptomatic carriers of the disease – or reservoir species – live in Central Africa; two of them also live in the southern tip of Guinea, and all three are found in Liberia [6].

Deforestation may have forced infected Central African bats to fly out West – bringing Ebola with them.

If the huntsman did get sick by way of animal carcass, it’s probable that Ebola is not only present among Liberian reservoir species, but that the prevalence of infection is high enough that bats can pass the disease on to people [7]. Though it’s still unclear how this might have happened, some kind of stress among forest-dwelling bat populations – deforestation or otherwise – seems like a fitting hypothesis.

A fallen tree leaves behind more than just a carbon footprint; displaced animals that otherwise may never have crossed paths with humans suddenly have no choice but to co-inhabit. This is why the huntsman is important. He is a bleak reminder that the health of our environment – and the animals we share it with – are integral to our own wellness. As #Ebola2014 continues to spread, it would be in our best interest not to forget it.

—Maia Majumder, MPH

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3 thoughts on “#Ebola2014: Why the Huntsman is Important

  1. Pingback: Follow-Up: Will #Ebola2014 Spread to the USA? | Mens et Manus

  2. Pingback: #Ebola2014: Will it spread to the USA? | Mens et Manus

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