April 20, 2024

Farming and Deforestation Could be Behind Ebola Outbreak

According to an article in The Conversation, deforestation and industrial-scale farming could have been a contributing factor in the Ebola outbreak in Africa. The global palm oil industry has been deep-cutting into forests; this helps spread pathogens by opening areas formerly untouched to human exploration. And land grabs force animals out of forests where they come into more frequent contact with humans.

Creek ForestThe Ebola virus occurs in fruit bats, which are natural hosts. When people in very poor communities face scarcity of food, they go further into the forest to hunt and butcher wildlife, known as bush meat. Bush meat is a major source of the virus.

These changes lead to something called an Allee effect, which occurs when changes in one part of the ecology cause populations in equilibrium to shift, increasing the chances that diseases affecting those populations will spill over to other animals and to people. Other diseases such as Dengue Fever have spread through deforestation, which forced animals out of their natural habitat. The virus then quickly adapted to secondary hosts and made the jump to humans.

Inadequate health care, poor health care facilities, non-existence infrastructure, and urban sprawl then help take the virus through human populations. Governments in turmoil, refugee influx, and other issues in the affected areas help contribute to the epidemic.

The World Health Organization has not been able to determine where the Ebola epidemic began. The first cases were diagnosed in 1976 near the Ebola River in Democratic Republic of Congo, which gave the virus its name. The current outbreak is the largest the world has seen since then.

To control this epidemic, governments need to reduce the risk of wildlife-to-human transmission by telling people to handle bush meat with gloves and thoroughly cook it before eating it. Outbreak containment measures and ways to reduce human-to-human transmission, which only occur with direct contact with bodily fluids, are also being put into place in the affected areas.


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