Origin of Ebola Outbreak: Tiny Guinea Bat?
Team says bats hunted by kids likely started this outbreak
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 31, 2014 2:30 AM CST
Updated Dec 31, 2014 7:30 AM CST
In this photo taken Nov. 20, 2014, Etienne Ouamouno sits in the communal room in Meliandou, southeast of Conakry, Guinea. Etienne's son Emile is widely recognized by researchers as patient zero.   (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

(Newser) – The current Ebola epidemic—which now totals upward of 20,000 cases and more than 7,700 deaths—has already been traced to the tiny village of Meliandou in southern Guinea, where the person thought to be patient zero, 2-year-old Emile Ouamouno, died with Ebola-like symptoms in late 2013. Fruit bats have been suggested as the probable culprits in the latest crossover to humans. But now a multidisciplinary team of ecologists, veterinarians, and an anthropologist who traveled to the affected area and studied a wide range of factors says that the likeliest culprit is what the locals call "lolibelo," a tiny insect-eating bat hunted and roasted by small children, reports National Geographic.

What's more, the researchers found the very hollow tree where they suspect the young boy may have played while looking for the bats. When the researchers found it, the tree had recently been set on fire by locals, resulting in a "rain of bats." DNA gathered from soil samples at the base of the tree suggested it had been home to Mops condylurus, often called the Angolan free-tailed bat. These bats are known to contain antibodies against Ebola, which the New York Times reports has resulted in 24 known outbreaks, but antibodies are weak evidence, and for now the team's case remains circumstantial. (Meanwhile, Sierra Leone is sending out surveillance teams to hunt down the sick.)