The worst Ebola virus outbreak ever is ravaging Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. So far, the disease has killed 670 people and infected more than 1,000, including an American doctor and aid worker.
One reason why Ebola is so terrifying is that there’s no cure, and the fatality rate is roughly 60 to 90 percent. Those who catch it and don’t get treated early will very likely die. Since 2008, past outbreaks of Ebola have killed a few dozen people at most.
So, what makes this one so much worse?
Past outbreaks of the virus have been linked to people hunting gorillas and chimps for food, or eating dead apes they find in the jungle. There are no gorillas in West Africa, so specialists think this outbreak is linked to fruit bats. In 2007 in Uganda, an Ebola outbreak was traced to “a couple of kids playing with fruit bats in a cave. They came home with two dead fruit bats and the mothers cooked them,” said Dr. Estrella Lasry, a tropical medicine advisor to Doctors Without Borders.
Researchers still don’t know the exact cause of this particular outbreak, but it might have to do with the local practice of eating bats for food, according to Jonathan Epstein, an epidemiologist at EcoHealth Alliance. “It's unclear whether it occurred due to butchering a bat, exposure to bat bodily fluids, or eating some food or fruit that was contaminated by saliva, urine, or feces from the bat, which may contain Ebola virus,” he said. Pig farms in Africa also often attract bats, which also may have been a cause.