As the deadliest ever Ebola outbreak continues its spread in West Africa, scientific evidence suggests that human impact on the environment may have played a role in the latest epidemic.
Researchers say the logging, road construction and even global warming may have precipitated the crisis by bringing animals infected with the disease in closer contact with humans.
“Expansion of human impact can really trigger outbreaks,” said Jonathan Epstein, a veterinary epidemiologist at EcoHealth Alliance. “Deforestation, building roads, expanding farms into areas that used to be dense forest, all those things increase the opportunity for wild animals to get into contact with livestock and humans.”
The West Africa outbreak was first reported in February in several remote towns in Guinea, as well as in Guinea’s capital Conakry. It has spread throughout the country and into Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. As of Monday, at least 887 people have died from the disease, according to the World Health Organization.