Study points to bats as possible source of Ebola outbreak in West Africa

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa might have originated from contact between humans and virus-infected bats, according to a study led by researchers from the Robert Koch-Institute in Berlin, Germany, The Guardian reported.

According to the report, published in EMBO Molecular Medicine, insectivorous free-tailed bat population could have acted as a reservoir, adding to the possible sources of the virus. The results also revealed that the larger wildlife was not the source of infection.

Ebola virus disease epidemics are of zoonotic origin, ie, the transmission to human populations happens either through contact with bats or other wildlife.

Ebola hemorrhagic fever (alternatively Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever, EHF, or just Ebola), a very rare, but severe, mostly fatal infectious disease occurs in humans and other primates, through transmission of the Ebola virus, possibly carried by fruit bats.

According to Fabian H Leendertz of the Robert Koch Institute, who led the study, the researchers monitored the large mammal populations close to the index village Meliandou in south-eastern Guinea and found no evidence for a concurrent outbreak. He said the second infection route appeared more plausible as direct contact with bats was usual in the affected region.

The researchers think they might have pinpointed how the Ebola epidemic in West Africa started - with a small boy playing in a hollowed-out tree where infected bats lived, Fox News reported.

In the area, where study was carried out, two year-old Emile Ouamouno fell ill a year ago and died. Health officials say he was the first case in the epidemic, which was not recognised until spring.

The Ebola virus was not found in the bats they tested so they were not able to prove the source, according to the study. However, the researchers believe the boy got Ebola from the furry, winged creatures that had lived in the hollow tree.

Leendertz said as a scientist he could say it was a possible scenario.

According to an outside expert the researchers' work was thought-provoking.

Stephen Morse, a Columbia University infectious disease expert, said they did not find smoking guns but perhaps broadened the thinking about what sparked the epidemic.

The Ebola epidemic is the worst in world history, blamed for killing nearly 8,000 people across West Africa this year, mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The exact origin of the epidemic had never been determined, but the virus was thought to spread to people from some sort of animal.