Experts link Ebola to destruction of rainforest

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The Independent Online

Cutting rainforests and hunting animals causes epidemics of Ebola and other deadly diseases, say researchers. A study by one of the world's leading academic medical centres shows logging and a taste for "bushmeat" as well as other features of modern civilisation have made humans more vulnerable to new diseases.

Cutting rainforests and hunting animals causes epidemics of Ebola and other deadly diseases, say researchers. A study by one of the world's leading academic medical centres shows logging and a taste for "bushmeat" as well as other features of modern civilisation have made humans more vulnerable to new diseases.

By yesterday the number of deaths from the latest outbreak of the Ebola virus - around Gulu, in northern Uganda - had reached 51. The virus, which comes from wild primates, including chimpanzees, and causes massive bleeding, has killed more than 800 people since it was discovered in the Congo in 1976.

The World Health Organisation is investigating the cause of the Uganda outbreak. "We have this fundamental question of how the virus crosses from the wild to humans," said Dr Guenael Rodier, leader of its team in Gulu.

The study, by Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, and Yaounde Medical Hospital in Cameroon, says people have always caught diseases from wildlife, but logging and increased mobility have added a new dimension.

Tropical rain forests are also rich in microbes, says the report. Cutting the forests and colonising the land brings more people into direct contact with the germs, and the animals that play host to them.

Hunting wild animals for food makes things worse and primates are particularly dangerous. People have caught Ebola from handling and eating chimpanzees and monkey pox, a form of smallpox, from consuming red colobus monkeys. "Diseases have always passed from wild animals to human hunters," says Nathan Wolfe, the main author of the report.

"But dramatic increases in tropical logging, complete with new trucks and access roads, have allowed local disease outbreaks to have potentially global consequences."

The roads driven into the forests to get loggers in and trees out pose the greatest threat. They allow deep penetration to cut more, and provide a quick way out for any infections. Roads also enable hunters to provide bushmeat to the hungry cities. That makes up a 10th of all meat eaten by the poorest 40 per cent of the people of Yaounde.

And new diseases can spread rapidly. The report says: "Human travel has increased to the point where global movement can occur quickly enough to overcome previous limitations on the spread of microbes with a very short incubation period."

Modern societies are "in many ways the ideal recipe" for the emergence and spread of new diseases. Today's humans are more vulnerable to disease emergence than our ancestors, the report adds.

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