A study led by researchers from the Robert Koch-Institute in Berlin, Germany has suggested that the epidemic may have originated from contact between humans and virus-infected bats.
The report identified insectivorous free-tailed bats as plausible reservoirs and expands the range of possible Ebola virus sources to this type of bats. The results also revealed that larger wildlife were not the source of infection.
Ebola virus disease epidemics are of zoonotic origin, transmitted to human populations either through contact with larger wildlife or by direct contact with bats.
The multidisciplinary team of researchers led a four-week field mission in Guinea in April 2014 to examine human exposure to bats, to survey local wildlife and to capture and sample bats in Meliandou and in neighbouring forests. The index village is not located in the forest but rather in an area heavily modified by humans representing "modern" African settings.
The virus that spread from Meliandou into other areas of Guinea and Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal, represents the largest ever-recorded Ebola outbreak killing 7,800 people (as of 17 December 2014).
The study is published in EMBO Molecular Medicine.