Research breakthrough could help predict future Ebola outbreaks

New research identifies a correlation between clearance of forests inhabited by fruit bats and the emergence of the Ebola virus, providing hope for an early-warning system.

Ebola new study INKLINE

Scientists studying links between the Ebola virus and deforestation have made a major breakthrough potentially leading to the creation of an early warning system for outbreaks of the devastating disease.

Experts have found a correlation between forest loss and the timing of Ebola outbreaks which could help identify areas that are more at risk.

The new study published in Nature‘s online journal Scientific Reports examined forest loss over different periods in relation with Ebola outbreaks in the Congo basin. The team found a strong  link between forest loss two years before an outbreak.

“Establishing a particular time period when these events of forest loss may be affecting the transmission of the virus is important, because it means we can actually set up early warning systems,” explains John Emmanuel Fa, a senior associate at the Centre for International Forestry Research who was among the team involved in the study.

Using satellite imaging, the scientists have been able to monitor forest cover throughout the region to pinpoint locations vulnerable to future outbreaks.

“We are piecing together what we know about potential reservoir species alongside the rate of forest loss in order to develop a system that will tell governments throughout the world – and certainly those within these particular African countries – which areas are at high risk,” says Fa.

“Obviously there is a lot more work to be done, but the hope is we can start to hone in on highlighting the areas most susceptible to outbreaks and mobilise resources so these locations are better protected.”

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