Community-based Wildlife Carcass Surveillance Is Key for Early Detection of Ebola Virus, Study Supported By Arcus Foundation Finds

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Community-based Wildlife Carcass Surveillance Is Key for Early Detection of Ebola Virus, Study Supported By Arcus Foundation Finds

Human Ebola epidemics, like the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, are known to start from a contact with wildlife infected with Ebola virus. In the early 2000s a series of such outbreaks in Central Africa began from different infected animal sources. In response, WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and NIH (National Institutes of Health) scientists partnered with the Republic of Congo Ministry of Health to develop a low-cost educational outreach program and surveillance system for wildlife mortality that has continued now for over a decade. While the region is a high-risk zone, Republic of Congo has not had a human case or detection of Ebola virus since 2005. The study authors provide the first description of the early warning system for Ebola in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Comprised of a mix of public health and conservation experts, the authors recognized the utility of monitoring great ape health early on. During Ebola outbreaks from 2001-2005, surveys of closely monitored gorilla populations in Central Africa found mortality from Ebola reached over 90 percent. In fact the western lowland gorilla is classified as critically endangered and the chimpanzee as endangered in part because of Ebola. If an Ebola outbreak among wildlife, or an epizootic, could be detected early on, measures could be put in place to prevent the virus from spilling over and causing a human outbreak.

According to Eeva Kuisma, Health Program Coordinator, WCS Congo Program, “The multitude of challenges facing the current DRC outbreak highlight the value of early detection and proactive prevention and education. These are at the core of our community-based wildlife mortality surveillance program and the only way to succeed is to work together with multi-sectorial partners and in mutual cooperation with the communities.”

A long-term wildlife mortality surveillance system coupled with community education was built over the ensuing years. To date the program has reached over 6,600 people living in rural northern Republic of Congo, and in total the surveillance effort covers an area of approximately 50,000 km2. The surveillance network is comprised of hunter-gathers, park rangers, and WCS-affiliated project personnel who report great ape and mammal carcasses they encounter to a trained response team. To establish and maintain the hunter-gatherer surveillance network the response team visits villages, with permission of the village chief, and delivers a verbal presentation on the basics of Ebola virus transmission to all interested community members. The emphasis is, ‘do not touch, move or bury the carcass and contact the surveillance network immediately’...

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