By Sola Ogundipe
‘Stop eating bush meat!”Anyaa Vohiri, Executive Director of Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, warned on the heels of the outbreak of the deadly Ebola Hemorrhagic fever in the West African country. In a terse statement, the health official highlighted the connection between the Mano River countries and danger of the bush meat trade to lives of animals and humans in the region.
“Obviously, our borders do not stop viruses from crossing, and the killing and cross border trade of our threatened and protected animals has health and ecological side effects,” Vohiri remarked.
This warning, Vanguard Features, VM, gathered, is not unfounded. By a long shot, the last is yet to be heard about the rampaging Ebola epidemic.
While it is no longer news that Ebola is a vicious cause of death, knowledge that the deadly virus has a long standing link to bush meat – a collective terminology for edible wildlife – may be one bit of news that West Africans who relish the exotic delicacies may find rather hard to swallow.
Several recent incidents of the deadly Ebola virus have been linked to consumption of the popular West African delicacy. In Nigeria and other countries of the threatened sub-region, poachers of the legendary African bush meat hunt with abandon. Very often, as a matter of fact, few do not think twice before hunting down, cooking and eating or selling the tainted meat of a grass cutter or other wild animal that could have become infected with the killer virus.
VF findings reveal that Ebola virus is fatal in monkeys, chimpanzees, gorillas, grass cutters and certain types of antelopes and their ilk. Studies reveal that outbreaks of Ebola in humans tend to be preceded by outbreaks among certain species of local animal populations (especially the primates).
For instance, the handling of dead animals by hunters has been linked to nearly all human outbreaks in Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC. Experts recommend that future outbreaks of Ebola in humans could be predicted and stopped in the early stages by tracking animal mortality and then sending health teams into villages when increased animal mortality is detected.
So why would people still partake of a potentially tainted delicacy like bush meat if the risks of doing so are so great? VF findings show that one of the most telling reasons is ignorance. For instance, in Nigeria where there has never been a known case of Ebola, a school of thought says a lot more awareness and education is required about the menace of diseases that can be contracted from sick wildlife, like anthrax.
But another school of thought argues that no amount of education or risk may stop a desperately hungry person from eating a potentially infected animal.
The vicious viral disorder, which kills up to 90 percent of its victims, originally erupted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), hence the alias “Zaire Fever”.
Currently it is in the international spotlight where it is creating anxiety. Last month, the World Health Organisation, WHO, quoted the Ministries of Health of Guinea and Liberia that reported an outbreak of Ebola in their countries. Earlier, outbreak of Ebola had been confirmed in Conakry, the Guinea capital.
The clinical picture of the haemorrhagic disease, which is in the class of Marburg haemorrhagic fever- is nightmarish. In the advanced/severe cases, Ebola causes a swollen face and massive bleeding from every bodily orifice (eyes, mouth, nose, ears and genitals). The bleeding is often a predictor of a significantly higher risk of death preceded by shock and vascular collapse. Death often occurs rapidly if proper and urgent medical attention is not administered.
Consumption of meat
Findings are also not ruling out the possible source of infection from consumption of meat infected with the Lassa virus which causes Lassa fever, another severe viral disease that produces hemorrhagic symptoms similar to that seen in infected persons. Just last week, the Centre for Diseases Control, CDC, confirmed a diagnosis of Lassa fever in a patient admitted to a hospital in Minnesota.
The victim, who was returning to the United States from a West African country, exhibited symptoms of fever and confusion and blood samples submitted to CDC tested positive for Lassa fever.
But experts say although the two diseases are native to West Africa, they are not directly related. The Lassa virus is carried by rodents and transmitted to humans through contact with urine or droppings of infected rodents.
“Unlike Ebola casual contact is not a risk factor for getting Lassa fever,” according to Barbara Knust, an epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology. “People will not get this infection just because they were on the same airplane or in the same airport.”
But it is a different story with the dreaded Ebola virus. VF findings show that even though there are no confirmed cases of Ebola in Nigeria, animals like grass cutter, monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees can get the disease and potentially pass it to humans.
After coming in contact with blood or secretions from an infected person or animal, a victim will begin showing symptoms after an incubation period lasting from two days to three weeks. Symptoms like fever, headache, muscle aches, and a sore throat are followed by diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach pain.
Worse still, because the early symptoms could be indicative of several other more common and less deadly diseases, Ebola might not be identified right away – particularly in the early stages. Family, friends and health care workers might become infected while caring for a sick person, causing the disease to spread quickly and claim more lives. Ebola epidemics have penchant to spread through direct contact.
An infected person potentially infects the relatives and members of the immediate family. Healthcare workers who attend to those affected also spread the disease to their own family members and co-workers before succumbing to the disease. While there is a drug to treat Lassa fever attack, there is, at present, no known cure for Ebola.