FAO warns of wild animal risk in West African Ebola epidemic

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Health care worker checks on a man with possible ebola infection. (UNifeed video capture)

Rural communities in West Africa are at risk of contracting the deadly Ebola virus from eating certain wildlife species, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

FAO has singled out the fruit bats, which are thought to be the likely reservoir of the virus which they can carry without developing clinical signs of the disease.

The organization says although the virus is killed when meat is cooked at high temperature, anyone who handles, skins or butchers an infected wild animal is at risk of contracting the virus.

FAO Chief veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth says the hunting and consumption of fruit bats should be avoided.

He adds that communities must be encouraged not to touch or consume wild animals that have died under suspicious circumstances.

"You could have transmission to humans either, the hunter who is dressing the animal, cleaning it for food preparation or other villagers that may be involved in food preparation including women and here you have a transmission of the virus to the human population. If that person is sick and goes to a medical center, then that particular ill person undergoes treatment by nurses or physician, medical personnel, you could have the virus transmitted to those people that are trying to help and if this happens in an urban setting, human to human contact rate is greater and the disease can spill over."

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was first report in March this year and has spread to three countries Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says nearly 1,000 cases have been reported with over 600 deaths.

Ebola virus causes multiple organ failure and, in some cases, severe haemorrhaging.

Currently there is no vaccine for the disease.

Patrick Maigua, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration 1.45″

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