An update on the risk of transmission of Ebola virus (EBOV) via the food chain
Several animal species were found to harbour Zaïre Ebola virus (ZEBOV), mainly non-human primates and fruit bats. The risk for persons in Europe linked to the transmission of ZEBOV via handling and preparation (by consumers or staff handling the food in kitchens immediately prior to consumption), and consumption of bushmeat illegally imported from Africa was assessed. The outcome was the probability for at least a single human case of ZEBOV in Europe due to transmission via bushmeat. This probability results from a combination of several steps: 1) the bushmeat has to be contaminated with ZEBOV; 2) the bushmeat has to be (illegally) introduced into the EU; 3) the imported bushmeat needs to contain viable virus when it reaches the person; 4) the person has to be exposed to the virus; and 5) the person needs to get infected following exposure. Due to lack of data and knowledge, which results in very high uncertainty, it is not possible to estimate this risk. Considering all these elements, and based on: (i) the limited number of outbreaks confirmed to date in Africa in spite of the routine consumption of bushmeat in that continent, (ii) the handling of bushmeat in Europe not involving high risk practices such as hunting and butchering, and (iii) the assumed low overall consumption of bushmeat in Europe, it can be assumed that the potential for introduction and transmission of ZEBOV via bushmeat in Europe is currently low. The public health consequences of such an event would be very serious given the high lethality and potential for secondary transmission. Hardly any information on ZEBOV infectivity is available on the effect of salting, smoking or drying of meat. Therefore, a conclusion cannot be reached regarding the effectiveness of these methods for virus inactivation. Thorough cooking (100 °C) will destroy the virus.