The internet is churning with misinformation and fear-mongering about the Ebola virus.
One theory making the rounds is that the food supply could be an entry point for the spread of the virus in this country. Newsweek bolstered the speculation with an inflammatory cover story: A Back Door For Ebola. Smuggled Bushmeat Could Spark a U.S. Epidemic.
The World Health Organization classifies Ebola as a foodborne disease.
The official U.S. position, voiced by both the Centers for Disease Control and the Surgeon General, is that you can’t get it from food. The truth comes down to your diet.
Researchers haven’t absolutely pinned it down but there’s general agreement that the virus probably originated with African bats.
Bats are notoriously adept at hosting parasites and pathogens and spreading diseases to other animals. The really nasty viruses like SARS, Ebola, and Marburg all happen to be of the zoonotic variety, meaning they can be passed between animals and humans.
Bats and their animal neighbors in the wild are a common food source in the Ebola zone.
Hunting, butchering, cooking, and eating infected animals creates contact with blood, organs, and bodily fluids—the known paths of transmission. But no African meat, raw or processed, bush or otherwise, is allowed to enter the U.S. The FDA bans it from every country on the African continent, and the CDC, the Department of Agriculture, and the Fish and Wildlife Service all have policing authority, with each violation carrying a $250,000 fine. That’s not to say that it’s not here; illegal, smuggled bushmeat has always found its way into immigrant communities whose residents hunger for a taste of home.
From the global perspective of the World Health Organization, Ebola is indeed a foodborne disease. But the Surgeon General and the CDC are also correct—it’s not a foodborne disease in this country because bushmeat isn’t a part of our food supply. With all due respect to the culture and traditions of our nation’s African immigrants, it’s unimaginable that members of their communities are continuing the risky practice in the midst of this ongoing health crisis. But to many West Africans, bushmeat is more than just a tradition; it’s an essential form of sustenance in regions where other sources of animal protein are scarce or prohibitively expensive. And that’s a situation that just continues to worsen as the Ebola epidemic sickens farmers, and quarantines disrupt food trade.