New Ebola outbreak in African primates?
Early reports of great ape mortalities from local people in the Cuvette-Ouest region of the Congo Republic are currently being investigated by a wildlife health team including Dr Alain Ondzie of WCS in coordination with government authorities and researchers in the area. If carcasses can be found, samples will be sent for diagnostic work to CIRMF/IRD network partners. The RoC Ministry of Health is mobilizing community outreach efforts while the wildlife investigation is underway.Ebola in African primates has been a real problem since about 2001. While, as I mentioned previously, human cases of the disease have been fairly minimal, primate researchers estimate that thousands of gorillas have died in the past decade from Ebola during outbreaks in Gabon and Côte d'Ivoire. In Gabon, gorilla sightings (or other evidence of their presence, such as dung and trails) decreased by 50% in a few short years; chimpanzee sightings decreased by 88%. Eight groups of gorillas that had been monitored by primatologists for 10 years disappeared completely between October 2002 and January 2003. Several gorilla carcasses that were found were positive for Ebola, suggesting this played a role in the population decrease.
This is in the same area where there was an Ebola outbreak earlier in 2005.
I mentioned here that fruit bats may be a reservoir for Ebola, and that a hypothesis has been put forth that Ebola may be a plant virus. Gorillas are, of course, vegetarians; some species eat up to 200 different plant species. Chimpanzees are omnivores, but fruit and leaves still make up a large percentage of their diet. Again, this idea is still unconfirmed, but it's intriguing.
Refs and further reading:
Formentry et al., 1999. J Infect Dis. "Ebola virus outbreak among wild chimpanzees living in a rain forest of Côte d'Ivoire." 179S1:S120-126.
Leroy et al., 2004. Science. "Multiple Ebola virus transmission events and rapid decline of central African wildlife." 303:387-90.
Vogel, G., 2003. Science. "Can great apes be saved from Ebola?" 300:1645.