W6 Activity: Ebola in West Africa

Ebola, like many diseases, is a result of pathogen transmission from an animal to a human. Or, as stated in my chosen article, the Ebola outbreak “stems from a single zoonotic transmission event to a 2‐year‐old boy in Meliandou, Guinea.”  Discovered in 1976, the contributing factors to its transmission are not entirely known, but it most likely happens through either direct human-to-reservoir contact, or through indirect reservoir to animal to human contact. (and thus human to human contact) One of the major factors that contributes to its spread is the locals’ distrust of isolated medical centers, according to Linda Poon, who explains that without proper communication and the establishment of rapport between the health providers and their patients, families of ill people suspect these isolation units are simply for organ harvesting. This is because patients rarely, if ever, came out of these units alive. Making an effort to better communicate with families will help maintain trust, and will encourage people to remove contagious patients from the public.

One group of anthropologists studied the nature of Ebola’s zoonotic transmission using techniques such as monitoring animal populations, noting food sources, and following trends regarding the association between contracting the virus and exposure to wildlife. For example, they point out that the only surviving member of the index case’s family is the father, who had never hunted. They also note that, while previous outbreaks of similar viruses resulted in a reduced population of carnivores and chimps, this outbreak coincides with an increased population. This indicates that the transmission is likely not associated with large game. From there, they investigate the suspected reservoir- bats. The species they tested had previously tested positive for the virus, yet their tests revealed no evidence of the virus in the bats. As a follow up, they visited the town where the index case occurred, and note that a burnt tree stump is not too far from the two-year old boy’s home. They learn that it was burned in 2014, and the fire forced the bats inhabiting it to fly away, described by the villagers as a “rain of bats”. The authors conclude that their evidence supports the idea that bats are the EVD reservoir. In an effort to curb reservoir to human transmission, the authors suggest educating people on the dangers of bats, as well as the functions of bats, and give them advice on how to avoid contact.

Poon, Linda. “Why Anthropologists Join An Ebola Outbreak Team.” NPR. April 2, 2014. Accessed August 15, 2016. http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/04/02/298369305/why-anthropologists-join-an-ebola-outbreak-team?utm_campaign=storyshare.
Saez, A. Mari, S. Weiss, K. Nowak, V. Lapeyre, F. Zimmermann, A. Dux, H. S. Kuhl, M. Kaba, S. Regnaut, K. Merkel, A. Sachse, U. Thiesen, L. Villanyi, C. Boesch, P. W. Dabrowski, A. Radonic, A. Nitsche, S. A. J. Leendertz, S. Petterson, S. Becker, V. Krahling, E. Couacy-Hymann, C. Akoua-Koffi, N. Weber, L. Schaade, J. Fahr, M. Borchert, J. F. Gogarten, S. Calvignac-Spencer, and F. H. Leendertz. “Investigating the Zoonotic Origin of the West African Ebola Epidemic.” EMBO Molecular Medicine 7, no. 1 (December 30, 2014): 17-23. doi:10.15252/emmm.201404792.

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