Bats — boiled, smoked, or stewed — are a popular food in many West African nations, particularly Guinea. They also happen to be a major carrier of the deadly Ebola virus that has been ravaging the country in the past weeks.
The mammals can contract the disease and are thought to transport the filovirus that causes Ebola. They are also the main ingredient in a spicy and peppery soup that is a delicacy in the region.
The deadly virus has reportedly killed 66 people so far in Guinea since the outbreak earlier this month, and cases have also been reported in neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia. Despite previous promises from the government that Ebola had been contained in rural areas, it was reported today that several cases have reached the capital of Conakry.
In an attempt to halt the spread of the disease, the Guinean government issued a country-wide ban this week on the sale or consumption of bats, in addition to other bushmeat such as rats and monkeys.
"We discovered the vector agent of the Ebola virus is the bat," Remy Lamah, the country's health minister, told Bloomberg News. "We sent messages everywhere to announce the ban. People must even avoid consumption of rats and monkeys. They are very dangerous animals."
Bat meat is most commonly eaten by the Toma, Kissi, and Guerze ethnic groups in Guinea's southeastern rural regions — also the areas that have been most seriously affected by the virus.
The virus was first discovered in 1976 in simultaneous outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan. It is transmitted to people from wild animals and then spreads in humans through person-to-person contact.
Handling raw meat or carcasses is a major way that the disease is spread to humans from animals. Freshly slaughtered bat meat is a common sight in many West African markets, and the news of its ban is not expected to be warmly received by those who make a living selling it.
"We've heard the announcement and we're worried because people won't buy our meat now," vendor Sophie Ouattara told Reuters at the Yopougon bushmeat market in Ivory Coast.
But despite efforts from the government, this ban is not expected to make a huge impact on halting the spread of Ebola. The terrifying virus kills up to 90 percent of the people it infects, causing them to bleed to death in a hemorrhagic fever. Scientists have yet to find a cure or treatment for it, in either bats or humans.
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