A study in central Africa has shown that the deadly Ebola virus can spread from animal carcasses to hunters.
Eric Leroy of the International Centre for Medical Research in Franceville, Gabon, and colleagues noted, along with local villagers, that just before and during an outbreak of Ebola in 2001 there had been an unusually large number of animal carcasses in the forest.
They found that the carcasses tested positive for the Ebola virus. The researchers then analysed a total of five human Ebola virus outbreaks in central Africa between 2001 and 2003, and traced each outbreak from dead animals.
The research, published in this week's Science, suggests that distinct strains of the Ebola virus were responsible for the five outbreaks, rather than one strain that mutated into different forms.
The team is calling for networks to be set up in areas near villages to monitor the deaths of wild animals as a way of predicting and preventing Ebola outbreaks. There is currently no treatment for the disease, which kills up to 90 per cent of infected people.