Human Ebola outbreak resulting from direct exposure to fruit bats in Luebo, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2007

Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis. 2009 Dec;9(6):723-8. doi: 10.1089/vbz.2008.0167.


Twelve years after the Kikwit Ebola outbreak in 1995, Ebola virus reemerged in the Occidental Kasaï province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between May and November 2007, affecting more than 260 humans and causing 186 deaths. During this latter outbreak we conducted several epidemiological investigations to identify the underlying ecological conditions and animal sources. Qualitative social and environmental data were collected through interviews with villagers and by direct observation. The local populations reported no unusual morbidity or mortality among wild or domestic animals, but they described a massive annual fruit bat migration toward the southeast, up the Lulua River. Migrating bats settled in the outbreak area for several weeks, between April and May, nestling in the numerous fruit trees in Ndongo and Koumelele islands as well as in palm trees of a largely abandoned plantation. They were massively hunted by villagers, for whom they represented a major source of protein. By tracing back the initial human-human transmission events, we were able to show that, in May, the putative first human victim bought freshly killed bats from hunters to eat. We were able to reconstruct the likely initial human-human transmission events that preceded the outbreak. This study provides the most likely sequence of events linking a human Ebola outbreak to exposure to fruit bats, a putative virus reservoir. These findings support the suspected role of bats in the natural cycle of Ebola virus and indicate that the massive seasonal fruit bat migrations should be taken into account in operational Ebola risk maps and seasonal alerts in the DRC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration
  • Animals
  • Chiroptera / virology*
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo / epidemiology
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Disease Reservoirs / virology*
  • Ebolavirus
  • Female
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Geography
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / epidemiology*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / transmission*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / virology
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Zoonoses / epidemiology
  • Zoonoses / transmission*
  • Zoonoses / virology