PLoS neglected tropical diseases

A new approach for monitoring ebolavirus in wild great apes.

PMID 25232832


Central Africa is a "hotspot" for emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) of global and local importance, and a current outbreak of ebolavirus is affecting multiple countries simultaneously. Ebolavirus is suspected to have caused recent declines in resident great apes. While ebolavirus vaccines have been proposed as an intervention to protect apes, their effectiveness would be improved if we could diagnostically confirm Ebola virus disease (EVD) as the cause of die-offs, establish ebolavirus geographical distribution, identify immunologically naïve populations, and determine whether apes survive virus exposure. Here we report the first successful noninvasive detection of antibodies against Ebola virus (EBOV) from wild ape feces. Using this method, we have been able to identify gorillas with antibodies to EBOV with an overall prevalence rate reaching 10% on average, demonstrating that EBOV exposure or infection is not uniformly lethal in this species. Furthermore, evidence of antibodies was identified in gorillas thought previously to be unexposed to EBOV (protected from exposure by rivers as topological barriers of transmission). Our new approach will contribute to a strategy to protect apes from future EBOV infections by early detection of increased incidence of exposure, by identifying immunologically naïve at-risk populations as potential targets for vaccination, and by providing a means to track vaccine efficacy if such intervention is deemed appropriate. Finally, since human EVD is linked to contact with infected wildlife carcasses, efforts aimed at identifying great ape outbreaks could have a profound impact on public health in local communities, where EBOV causes case-fatality rates of up to 88%.