Where will Ebola strike next?

Ebola risk Since the first outbreaks of Ebola virus disease in 1976, there have been numerous other outbreaks in humans across Africa with fatality rates ranging from 50% to 90%. Humans can become infected with the Ebola virus after direct contact with blood or bodily fluids from an infected person or animal. The virus also infects and kills other primates, though fruit bats are suspected to be the most likely carriers of the virus in the wild.

The largest recorded outbreak of Ebola virus disease is ongoing in West Africa: more people have been infected in this current outbreak than in all previous outbreaks combined. The current outbreak is also the first to occur in West Africa – which is outside the previously known range of the Ebola virus. A new paper in eLife updates predictions about where in Africa wild animals may harbour the virus and where the transmission of the virus from these animals to humans is possible.

Mapping the zoonotic niche of Ebola virus disease in Africa. (2014) eLife 3:e04395 doi: 10.7554/eLife.04395
Ebola virus disease (EVD) is a complex zoonosis that is highly virulent in humans. The largest recorded outbreak of EVD is ongoing in West Africa, outside of its previously reported and predicted niche. We assembled location data on all recorded zoonotic transmission to humans and Ebola virus infection in bats and primates (1976–2014). Using species distribution models, these occurrence data were paired with environmental covariates to predict a zoonotic transmission niche covering 22 countries across Central and West Africa. Vegetation, elevation, temperature, evapotranspiration, and suspected reservoir bat distributions define this relationship. At-risk areas are inhabited by 22 million people; however, the rarity of human outbreaks emphasises the very low probability of transmission to humans. Increasing population sizes and international connectivity by air since the first detection of EVD in 1976 suggest that the dynamics of human-to-human secondary transmission in contemporary outbreaks will be very different to those of the past.

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