Desperately Seeking Reservoirs

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Science  30 Jan 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5658, pp. 593
DOI: 10.1126/science.303.5658.593a

The filoviruses Ebola and Marburg cause terrifying hemorrhagic fevers in people and kill most of those infected. The reservoir hosts remain elusive but are likely to be small mammals with limited ranges, because human outbreaks are highly localized and closely associated with hunting activities; there also have been notorious disease outbreaks in endangered species of wild apes.

Peterson et al. have been trying to use ecological constraints acting on these viruses to map possible reservoirs. Although they acknowledge the severe limitations posed by small sample size, they have developed an ecological niche comparison model that integrates geographical and climate data with outbreaks. Essentially, Ebola Zaire and Ivory Coast seem to be restricted to patches of hot, humid, broad-leafed forests of central Africa. Ebola Sudan and Ebola Reston clearly occur under different geoclimatic conditions, and the phylogenetically distinct Marburg virus is found in drier conditions prevailing in eastern and southern Africa. The origins of Ebola Reston are mysterious. It was isolated from macaques bred in the Philippines, and prevailing ecological conditions in parts of Mindanao could support Ebola, but the indications are that Ebola Sudan might offer a stronger clue to Reston's origin. — CA

Emerg. Infect. Dis. 10, 40 (2004).

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