How deforestation shares the blame for the Ebola epidemic

8 July 2014

Like most matters involving an Ebola epidemic, chronicling its first horrifying infection is not an easy endeavor. But even in circumstances in which details are hard to come by, certain similarities have emerged. The first contact often occurs in remote, rural communities where a victim handles an infected animal carcass, and things quickly progress downward from there.

One outbreak in Ivory Coast was sparked when an ethologist touched an infected, dead chimpanzee. In Gabon and the Republic of Congo, scientists linked several outbreaks to extensive deaths of forest chimpanzees and gorillas. And in this most current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa — which has been called “out of control” and has claimed at least 481 lives in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia — is also believed to have begun in a remote location in the town of Gueckedou.

The commonality between numerous outbreaks of Ebola, scientists say, is growing human activity and deforestation in previously untouched forests, bringing humans into closer contact with rare disease strains viral enough to precipitate an epidemic.

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