The potential for introduction and transmission of Ebola through bushmeat illegally imported into Europe from Western and Central Africa is low, EFSA scientists say.
Ebola virus has been found in bushmeat, which is meat derived from wild animals native to African forests, including fruit bats, gorillas, chimpanzees, and duikers. The import of bushmeat into the EU is not authorised. To date there have been no reported cases of Ebola infection from handling, preparation and consumption of illegally imported bushmeat in the EU.
EFSA’s scientists conclude that the risk of transmission from bushmeat is low for several reasons. Hunting and butchering of bushmeat carries a high risk for transmission, but these practices are not known to occur in Europe. Also, the consumption of bushmeat in EU is considered to be low. Finally, although bushmeat is routinely consumed in Africa, the number of outbreaks reported there is relatively low. However, the experts caution that although the potential for introduction and transmission of Ebola through bushmeat is low, the public health consequences of its introduction would be serious given the high fatality rate and ease of human-to-human transmission.
In their recommendations, the experts say that the most effective measure to prevent the transmission of Ebola in Europe through bushmeat is the prevention of all illegal imports.
Experts identify several knowledge gaps in their risk assessment. For example, there is no information about consumption levels in the EU, or on how illegally imported bushmeat is handled, prepared and consumed in Europe. Scientists do not know for how long the virus survives in meat or animal products.
Despite these uncertainties, EFSA experts conclude that the probability of a viable virus surviving transportation to Europe is higher in fresh or frozen meat after a short transport time and lower in dried or smoked meat exposed to higher temperatures during transport. They also say that thorough cooking (at 100°C) kills the virus.
In a second report, EFSA will look at the risk posed by animal species that may host the virus and at the factors driving the risk of disease transmission to humans.
To date there have been 27 reported outbreaks of Ebola virus disease in Africa. The current outbreak in West Africa – affecting mainly Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 2014. Between December 2013 and October 2014, 13,703 cases (including 4,920 deaths) were reported by the WHO. For updates on the current Ebola outbreak, go to ECDC website.