Ignorance and bush meat trade cause of Ebola epidemic

Is there hope for containing this African epidemic?

“Bush meat” is any kind of meat that poachers bring out of “the bush,” forest and brushlands of Africa, especially central Africa.

The Ebola virus causes Ebola hemorrhagic fever. It is one of the most frightening of all epidemics because of its symptoms, high mortality (30 to 90 %) , and current expansion that is breaking out of control. Ebola continues to spread through central African counties, and the total known mortality now exceeds a thousand.

Ebola seems to begin when hunters kill infected animals and eat the meat poorly cooked or even merely touch the meat as they bring it to market and/or prepare it.  The droppings of infected animals on edible vegetation are also a source of infection. The animals most pointed to as carriers of Ebola virus are the various species of fruit bats.  These often large bats are frequently dried and then eaten directly or made into soup. The fruit bats are reservoirs of the virus, but not harmed by it. Other animals harbor the virus too. Some are sickened and killed by it such as the great apes and pigs, but they infect other apes and humans. Other animals too are probably reservoirs.

Once a person has contacted the disease, the virus readily spreads without further spillover from infected animals. The profuse bleeding and expulsion of other bodily fluids from infected people, often spreads the infection to a large number of those who touch the patients, their clothing, or fluids. So, caregivers, family members or other intimates are at great risk. Adding to this way of spreading Ebola are rituals involving the washing and other touching of the dead.  Regarding health care personnel and Ebola, Top Ebola doctor in Sierra Leone infected with virus By Hoai-Tran Bui, USA TODAY 6:14 p.m. EDT July 24, 2014

The “germ” theory of infectious disease is not known or not believed by hundreds of millions of people who instead have learned to favor belief in spells, vapors, or conspiracies. Medical workers in their clothing worn for protection are often not seen as help, but as agents of the disease or people who would steal away the sick for experiments or dark rituals. A number have been shot at, threatened, or even killed while trying to contain the epidemic. Hospitals have been set on fire. As a result, the sick are often not treated and are hidden away and infect people silently. This also makes monitoring the spread and incidence of the plague difficult.

It is very hard to know how large the epidemic might grow. In its favor is its high degree of infectiousness.  Retarding explosive growth is the obvious illness of those with the disease and its high mortality rate so that the sick are not alive long enough to expose as many people as in other epidemic diseases.  Fear, superstition, ignorance, secrecy, and social breakdown all serve to indirectly spread the disease.

Ebola is also a menace to the survival of many of the great apes. It infects and kills them like it does humans





  1. Nancy Avatar


    While posting some very interesting information about this book, just in the epilogue, moments ago, I got “timed out” before I could hit “post comment” Because suddenly those references and my comments disappeared.

    Would suggest you find the book if your interested in the common ground for all diseases – Close says its poverty, abject poverty and the breakdown of basic government services.

  2. Kathleen Avatar

    From Jane Goodall:

    “Ebola control is directly linked to conservation – understanding and mitigating the effects of wildlife diseases, as well as minimizing human encroachment on wild places can go a long way in preventing a future outbreak.”


  3. alf Avatar

    It seems to me that we might have a “bush meat” problem in this country, too : CWD

  4. Mark Stopha Avatar
    Mark Stopha

    It’s disheartening to see the subsistence hunters in West Africa referred to as “poachers” as if they were doing something illegal or wasteful. Hunting is an honored profession in Sierra Leone, where I served in the Peace Corps in the late 1980’s, and the hunter trades his harvest for either other goods or money. Hunting was usually done with an ancient shot gun, and hunters needed to be expert marksmen since the cost of shotgun shell was a large expense and cartridges usually bought one or two at a time. Farmers also often harvested bush meat – from groundhog type animals called “cutting grass” to boa constrictor snakes – in home made snare traps ingeniously incorporated into the fences they built around their rice farms to keep animals from eating their rice.

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Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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