A version of this article was previously published in New Scientist.
As the media closely follows the handful of confirmed Ebola cases in the U.S., it's important to remember that the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa is still leaving widespread death, fear, and disrupted societies in its wake. Sadly, the social fabric of my homeland - Sierra Leone and neighboring Guinea and Liberia - continues to unravel as mistrust, paranoia, and uncertainty damage relationships and drive behaviors reminiscent of those in the era of the Black Plague centuries ago. We all hope this epidemic can be contained soon.
Yet will we learn to change our own behaviors that have directly caused this outbreak? According to the World Health Organization, people initially contract Ebola when they handle or eat infected wildlife, especially fruit bats, chimpanzees, monkeys, antelopes (pictured), and porcupines. While wild animals, in their natural habitat, are not a threat to human health, it is the contact with humans that can lead to disease transmission. Eating wild animals or bushmeat remains a common practice throughout Africa, either for subsistence or as a luxury item.