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Animals could spread Ebola to 15 more African countries, warn Oxford scientists


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(NaturalNews) At least 15 African countries, primarily in the central regions of the continent, are at high risk of Ebola being spread by animals, in addition to the previous seven countries that have reported cases of zoonotic transmission of the disease, according to new research out of the UK. Predictive models created by researchers from Oxford University suggest that the current Ebola outbreak will eventually be spread eastward by wildlife, affecting countries like Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon in the coming months.

Since the believed-to-be strain of Ebola currently spreading originated out of Central Africa, it remains a mystery how it ended up sparking the worst outbreak in history on Africa's western coast. But experts say it will eventually return to its homeland, where tens of thousands of people face infection and possible death.

According to the research, which was published in the journal eLife, fruit bats, the primary vector for the disease, will likely spread the disease to humans living in Africa's central region. It is believed that multiple species of fruit bats are capable of carrying the disease, some without symptoms, and that these creatures will infect other bats and animals such as monkeys and rodents.

Since many people in Central Africa eat bats and monkeys -- these and other creatures are commonly referred to as "bush meat" -- the likelihood that infected animals will eventually infect humans is strong. This is especially true among people groups that eat the meat of these creatures raw rather than cooked, drastically increasing the likelihood of infection.

"Our map shows the likely 'reservoir' of Ebola virus in animal populations, and this is larger than has been previously appreciated," stated Nick Golding, a researcher at Oxford's Department of Zoology, and author of the study. "This does not mean that transmission to humans is inevitable in these areas; only that all the environmental and epidemiological conditions suitable for an outbreak occur there."

Current Ebola outbreak spreading most deadly known strain

According to experts, there are five known strains of Ebola -- Zaire, Sudan, Tai Forest, Bundibugyo, and Reston. Zaire, the strain currently believed to be spreading throughout West Africa, is the most virulent, while the others are less dramatic and much easier to contain. Reston is the only strain that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), has never sparked an outbreak.

Because of their sheer proximity to one another, the following countries have the highest risk of seeing Zaire spread by animals for the first time within the coming months: Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola, Togo, United Republic of Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar and Malawi.

You can view a "heat" map of the most likely areas where Ebola will spread next here:

As of this writing, the WHO has confirmed that the current Ebola outbreak has already killed 2,288 people. Half of them, says the agency, died just within the last three weeks, indicating that the spread of the disease is picking up at an exponential rate. Suspected new cases of Ebola are also starting to emerge in both Europe and North America, suggesting a global pandemic threat.

"The number of new cases [of Ebola] is moving far faster than the capacity to manage them," stated the WHO in a recent news release.

Learn more about natural defenses against viral outbreaks at BioDefense.com.

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