The source of the ongoing Ebola epidemic in West Africa may have been a hollow tree where children played—and bats roosted. In a visit to Meliandou, the Guinean village where the outbreak apparently started, researchers learned of the tree and linked it to one of the outbreak’s first victims. But, in a frustrating twist, the tree had burned to a stump just before they arrived, thwarting their search for evidence that might confirm the scenario.
A year ago, a toddler in Meliandou died of a mysterious disease; soon, his sister, mother, and grandmother were infected as well. As far as epidemiologists can tell, the family members were the first people to die in West Africa's Ebola epidemic. A large tree stump near a well-traveled path to a small river where villagers washed their clothes. The hollow tree was only 50 meters from the house where the toddler lived; children used to play in it, residents told the researchers.
Bat-filled tree may have been ground zero for the Ebola epidemic