The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is warning people in West African countries about a link between eating wildlife and the disease Ebola. The FAO says it is especially worried about the fruit bat. It said people often eat fruit bats dried or in a spicy soup. But the agency worries the animal may carry the Ebola virus without showing any signs of disease.
The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is the deadliest recorded. More than 600 people have died from the disease in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone over the past four months.
The FAO said the sickness probably started when the Ebola virus moved from infected wild animals into humans. Experts said the virus then moved from person to person. It spreads when someone touches blood or other body fluids from an infected person.
Juan Lubroth is the Chief Veterinary Officer at the FAO.
“When we, as humans, go into the forest either for hunting or gathering food, first animal we encounter could be weak or ill. And then we bring it back to our village there’s some risk there of bringing back, in this particular case, maybe an Ebola affected animal.”
Dr. Lubroth says villagers may get infected when they help prepare the animal as food.
“You could have transmission to humans -- either the hunter who’s dressing the animal, cleaning it for food preparation -- or other villagers that may be involved with the food preparation, including women. And there you have that transmission of the virus to the human population.”
He says that process moves the virus into the human population.
If a person becomes ill and goes to a medical center, he or she could infect doctors or nurses. The initial symptoms of Ebola may take about two weeks to appear and begin with only a fever, like many sicknesses.“
Dr. Lubroth said the danger is great. He says it is not realistic to suggest that people stop hunting. But he says communities need what he called “clear advice” not to touch dead animals. And he urged people not to sell or eat the meat of any animal found dead.
As Ebola spreads, so do people’s fears. Medical workers say some people feel so afraid they hide infected people without asking for help. Other people are not going to work.
The FAO will help governments in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone launch wildlife observation programs. The programs would be used as early-warning systems for Ebola. The UN agency also plans to help communities produce livestock animals. The goal is to reduce dependency on bush meat.