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[January 21, 2015]

Animal-to-Human Transmission of Ebola Virus Appears Tied to Increasing Human Population Density in Forested Regions, Say SUNY Downstate Researchers

Researchers at SUNY Downstate Medical Center have found an apparent link between human population density and vegetation cover in Africa and the spread of the Ebola virus from animal hosts to humans. Michael G. Walsh, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics in the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate, notes that there is significant interaction between population density and green vegetation cover in the parts of Africa that have seen outbreaks of Ebola virus disease (EVD).

In contrast, in areas of very low population density, increasing vegetation was associated with a decrease in risk of animal-to-human transmission. The findings were published in the open-access journal PeerJ, on January 20, 2015, in an article titled, “The landscape configuration of zoonotic transmission of Ebola virus disease in West and Central Africa: interaction between population density and vegetation cover.”

“These findings cannot be viewed as causal due to the observational nature of the data,” says Dr. Walsh, “but they do suggest that the specific landscape configuration of interaction between human populations and forested land may facilitate transmission of the Ebola virus from animals to humans.” He adds, “The reservoir species of the Ebola virus is believed to be fruit bats, with a secondary source being non-human primates. As human populations increase and move into forested areas that are home to these animals, the risk of humans contracting EVD appears to increase, judging from our analysis of EVD outbreaks in Central and West Africa.”

The article is available online at: https://peerj.com/articles/735/ .

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SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and an Advanced Biotechnology Park and Biotechnology Incubator. 

SUNY Downstate ranks twelfth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools. More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school. For more information, visit www.downstate.edu.

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