FAO warns of potential Ebola risk among West African fruit bats

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) announced on Monday that enhanced efforts are needed to increase awareness among West African communities about potential Ebola infection risks from certain wildlife species.

Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are attempting to contain the deadliest recorded outbreak of the Ebola virus, which is transmitted by direct contact with the blood and body fluids of infected people or animals. The epidemic is thought to have started when the virus crossed over from infected wildlife into the human population before spreading between people, according to a FAO press release.

The FAO is working closely with the World Health Organization to raise awareness of potential transmission risks from wildlife among rural communities that hunt for meat obtained from the forests. The communities risk future spillover from species that may carry the virus, like duikers, fruit bats and some primates.

"We are not suggesting that people stop hunting altogether, which isn't realistic," Juan Lubroth, the FAO's chief veterinary officer, said. "But communities need clear advice on the need not to touch dead animals or to sell or eat the meat of any animal that they find already dead. They should also avoid hunting animals that are sick or behaving strangely, as this is another red flag."

Lubroth said the virus is killed when meat is heavily smoked or cooked at a high temperature, though he warned that anyone who handles an infected wild animal is at risk of contracting Ebola virus.

According to the WHO, more than 600 people have died from the disease in the region. Ebola virus, which is considered a category A bioterrorism agent by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is lethal in up to 90 percent of cases and there is currently no vaccine for the disease.