Researchers Find First Ebola Case May Be Linked To Bat Play

Scotland has confirmed its first Ebola case.

Nurse Pauline Cafferkey volunteered with Save the Children in Sierra Leone. She returned to Glasgow this past weekend with fifty other volunteers — fellow health professionals from the National Health Service (NHS).  She was transferred to a London Hospital on Tuesday.  Cafferkey is believed to be in the very early stages of the infection and health officials are scrambling to trace the 71 passengers on Cafferkey’s internal British Airways flight – BA1478 – from Heathrow to Glasgow.

This news comes as we learn more about little Emile Ouamouno, the two-year-old Ebola victim believed to be the first case in the current outbreak. Researchers report in EMBO Molecular Medicine that the boy may have contracted the disease from bats.

During a four-week field trip to Meliandou, the boy's 31-house Guinean village, Dr. Fabian Leendertz and colleagues from Germany's Robert Koch Institute found a hollowed out tree that was the source of play for many children.  Located about 50 meters away from the Emile's home, the tree housed a colony of fruit bats that may have carried the virus.  Emile died in December 2013 and often played in the tree, according to his friends and family.

While bushmeat is believed to be a source of the virus, Dr. Leendertz doesn't believe it played a role in Emile's case.  Rather, he contracted the disease from rat droppings within the tree.

This particular tree caught on fire in March 2014 resulting in an exodus of bats.

Villagers collected them for bush meat but later disposed of the animals after the government enacted a ban the following day.  None of that meat was available for scientists to test but other bats in the area were trapped and tested for Ebola.  None of those bats carried the virus but researchers point to previous tests that show this species of bats can carry Ebola.

Removing this species is not an answer, Dr. Leendertz explained to the BBC.  "These bats catch insects and pests, such as mosquitoes. They can eat about a quarter of their body weight in insects a day. Killing them would not be a solution. You would have more malaria."

Headshot of Jessica Alpert

Jessica Alpert Managing Producer, Program Development
Jessica Alpert is the managing producer for program development at WBUR. In this position, she develops new podcasts and programs while also launching and nurturing WBUR’s newest projects.



More from WBUR

Listen Live