The lethal Ebola virus could erupt in Paris or London because of the illicit trade in African wild meat that is following immigrant communities
Ebola and the deadly Marburg virus also infect wild primates such as apes and some studies suggest humans contract the disease while handling infected carcasses. The ultimate source is a mystery but evidence points to bats.
"There is bushmeat going into places like Paris and London, being smuggled in for the immigrant market. So an Ebola outbreak could happen there," said Dr. Robert Swanepoel of South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
Swanepoel was speaking in Madagascar at an African conservation conference.
Ebola and Marburg are associated with central and west Africa but that may change.
"Los Angeles is as close to Ebola as Kinshasa with air travel," Swanepoel said.
In the three decades since Ebola emerged and the four since Marburg was discovered, they have killed 2,500 people -- which may look insignificant compared to malaria or AIDS.
"People ask why the fuss? ... For one thing, Ebola outbreaks are becoming more frequent and you have to ask why," said Swanepoel. The first recorded outbreaks were in the former Zaire and Sudan in 1976.
It seemed to vanish after 1979 but re-emerged in the mid-1990s in Ivory Coast and Gabon, with several outbreaks since in various countries. Marburg is also occurring more often.
"We think the increasing frequency is because of a population explosion and deforestation," said Swanepoel.
Africa's bushmeat trade is now run on an industrial scale, increasing the chances of spread.
The plague which killed a third of Europe's population in the mid-14th century also followed trade routes. And like that plague, Ebola and Marburg cause panic.
"They spark panic and people flee. And unlike AIDS, they kill medical staff and paralyze medical services," said Swanepoel.
Ebola victims bleed internally and externally from any opening in the body. Fatality rates are 80 percent or more.
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