Deforestation helps animal-human disease transmission: scientist

WELLINGTON-- Deforestation is creating "disease reservoirs" in west and central Africa that resulted in the deadly Ebola outbreak and could cause other possible epidemics, a New Zealand veterinary scientist said Monday.

To avoid future outbreaks of Ebola and other viruses, it is necessary to understand the processes that lead to infection emergence, as well as produce intelligence that aided monitoring and surveillance, Massey University Associate Professor David Hayman said.

"The destruction of tropical forests in many regions of the world is causing human populations and wild animals to come into close proximity to one another," Hayman, who contributed to an international study, said in a statement.

"This has been going on for decades, but the links to Ebola virus were not well understood. Our findings suggest that there is an increased risk of Ebola virus disease where there are hotspots of forest fragmentation as animals are brought into contact with people."

"Effectively through our own encroachment into their space, we are bringing disease reservoirs -- the habitat in which the carrier normally lives, grows, and multiplies -- closer to ourselves," he added.

The researchers conducted an analysis using land coverage data and Ebola virus outbreak records to establish this association in west and central Africa and demonstrated that the spillover of Ebola virus from wildlife to people occurred mostly in hotspots of forest fragmentation.

"Decision-makers in Africa and the wider world could be taking vital steps to change their behaviors to avoid further forest fragmentation and help reduce the risk of more outbreaks, as well as improve surveillance in those regions already fragmented, because fragmenting the habitats of wild animals could be contributing to human disease," he said.

Hayman was previously involved in research that identified evidence of Ebola virus in west African bats.

Source: Philippines News Agency

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