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article imageTracking Ebola using ape poop

By Tim Sandle     Sep 23, 2014 in Science
Researchers have developed a novel method to study the Ebola virus in wildlife. The new technique is based on apes, like humans, who survive viral infections developing antibodies against the infection.
With the Ebola virus outbreak showing no signs of abating, scientists are searching for new ways to track the spread of the disease. The World Health Organization is predicting 20,000 Ebola cases by the end of November and the health agency has also confirmed that the fatality rate is around seventy percent.
Scientists think that Ebola can be tracked through the study of animals that are also susceptible to the disease. The standard means to do so is to measure antibodies is in the blood. However, this requires animals to be caught and sampled. As an alternative, a research group have developed a laboratory technique that can isolate antibodies from ape feces.
To develop the method, fecal samples from eighty wild gorillas from five different habitats across the northern Republic of Congo were sampled and analysed for Zaire Ebola virus. Overall, ten percent of the samples tested positive. The scientists were satisfied with the robustness of this test in detecting antibodies against Ebola virus in feces.
The object behind the new test is to measure the spread of Ebola across distance and over time, and to gain an understanding of how readily the virus can spread. The approach can potentially be adapted to other species that play roles in Ebola virus transmission, including small antelope and wild pigs.
The findings have been published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. The research study is titled “A New Approach for Monitoring Ebolavirus in Wild Great Apes.”
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