Marsabit County could be at risk from the Ebola virus transmitted to humans from animals because the county is “environmentally suitable for Ebola transmission by bats”, scientists say.
The region which is located in the north of Kenya, has the appropriate “nature, dense vegetation and forested area for the Ebola virus,” Dr David Pigott, a researcher at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Seattle, told Nation Newsplex.
With an estimated 10,000 people at risk, Kenya’s risk from Ebola transmission is lower than that of Uganda, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. In fact, Kenya is among the bottom three of all the 23 countries at risk from the viral haemorrhagic disease. But Dr Pigott warns if an outbreak were to occur in Uganda or South Sudan for instance, it could be imported into the country.
This is according to a study titled Updates to the zoonotic niche map of Ebola virus disease in Africa, which was published July 14 in the journal eLife. The term "zoonotic" refers to diseases that can be spread between animals and humans.
“Our method looks at all previous incidences of Ebola and we map out the environmental profile of this region looking at the temperature, rainfall, vegetation and the presence of bats or monkeys or other reservoir of the virus,” he told Nation Newsplex on phone.
“Then we make a comparison to where there haven’t been cases and see if these environmental profiles are similar and can thus predict the risk,” he added.
The study showed that three bat species whose existence has been recorded in Kenya are potential reservoirs of the virus.
According to the World Health Organisation, the West African Ebola epidemic has killed more than 11,000 people since the first Ebola case in 2013, and exposed national and international inadequacies in pandemic preparedness and response.
WHO also says that on average, one half of all people affected die from the disease, though deaths range from 25 per cent in some epidemics to 90 per cent in others.
Seven of the 23 countries have had an outbreak of Ebola before and continue to face the greatest risk. The most affected is the Democratic Republic of the Congo with at least 17 million people at risk of an Ebola outbreak, followed by Uganda at about two million and Guinea at 1.7 million. These countries are followed by Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, South Sudan and Congo - Brazzaville.
The other 16 countries — Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Liberia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Angola, Togo, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania, Burundi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Kenya and Malawi— which have never reported any Ebola case, ought to be on the alert when an outbreak occurs in neighbouring regions as they may be “unprepared for future outbreaks”.
Dr Pigott explained: “Just because you have not seen an Ebola case it does not mean you may not get it. While Kenya might be on the fringe in terms of risk, health workers should be wary if someone presents in a hospital with high fever and says they have had bush meat or interacted with animals. Ebola should be on their list.”
In a quick rejoinder, he said: “Just because environment is suitable, doesn’t mean it will happen but it is good to be aware and heighten surveillance just in case.”
The current study is an update on a study published in 2014, that created a ’zoonotic niche map used to define areas of environmental suitability for Ebola in response to the recent outbreak.
The interactive map published with the study identifies regions where the virus could be transmitted from animals to humans and incorporates more species of bats likely capable of transmitting Ebola, as well as new reports of the virus.
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