According to the community-based wildlife mortality; the surveillance program could help prevent Ebola outbreaks. Human Ebola epidemics, like the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, are known to start from a contact with wildlife infected with Ebola virus. In the early 2000s a series of such outbreaks in Central Africa began from different infected animal sources.
In response, WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and NIH (National Institutes of Health) scientists partnered with the Republic of Congo Ministry of Health to develop a low cost educational outreach program and surveillance system for wildlife mortality that has continued now for over a decade. While the region is a high-risk zone; Republic of Congo has not had a human case or detection of Ebola virus since 2005.
Comprised of a mix of public health and conservation experts; the authors recognized the utility of monitoring great ape health early on. During Ebola outbreaks from 2001-2005; surveys of closely monitored gorilla populations in Central Africa found mortality from Ebola reached over 90%. In fact the western lowland gorilla is classified as critically endangering; and the chimpanzee as endangered in part because of Ebola.
The surveillance program
If an Ebola outbreak among wildlife, or an epizootic, could be detected early on; measures could be put in place to prevent the virus from spilling over and causing a human outbreak. The multitude of challenges facing the current DRC outbreak highlight the value of early detection and proactive prevention and education.
These are at the core of our community-based wildlife mortality surveillance program; and the only way to succeed is to work together with multi-sectorial partners and in mutual cooperation with the communities. A long-term wildlife mortality surveillance system coupled with community; education was building over the ensuing years.
Using biosafety methods
But the surveillance network is comprising of hunter-gathers, park rangers; and WCS-affiliated project personnel who report great ape and mammal carcasses they encounter to a trained response team. To establish and maintain the hunter-gatherer surveillance network the response team visits villages; with permission of the village chief; and delivers a verbal presentation on the basics of Ebola virus transmission to all interested community members.
But then using biosafety methods and lessons learned from past outbreaks; the carcass is sampling and the sample sent for molecular testing at the National Public Health Laboratory in Brazzaville. But the test results are available within 3-4 days and communicating back to the village. All 58 carcasses tested to date have been negative for Ebola virus.