The disease causes runaway internal bleeding in humans and also apes. The Ebola virus undoubtedly has its home in deep tropical jungle, but its natural host organism or 'reservoir' remains unknown.
"Humans get infected only when an individual gets into contact with an already-infected animal," said Ghislain Moussavou of the Gabon-based International Centre for Medical Research (CIRMF).
"In Gabon and Congo there were no human outbreaks between 1998 and 2000, but we can't affirm no outbreak occurred among some fauna. Mostly it is the animal population that is damaged particularly gorillas and chimpanzees."
The origin of the current Congo outbreak has been traced back to the end of October, when hunters from Mbomo ate a wild boar they found dead in the jungle.
The very fact infected animals sicken and die shows they are not the elusive Ebola reservoir. CIRMF equipped with a rare Level 4 Biosafety Laboratory engineered for the study of dangerous pathogens is on the hunt for whatever organism actually serves as the long-term virus host by testing the blood of captured jungle animals.
The sheer biological diversity and geographical inaccessibility of the Central African rainforest makes that a difficult task.
However from next year ESA will be supplying Earth Observation (EO) data of the region to CIRMF as one component of a new project called Epidemio.
Moussavou hopes that this data - once imported into geographical information system (GIS) software - may provide some additional clues: "Characterising the ecological parameters of the whole area of study just can't be done just by ground-based means. But remote sensing and GIS can do it at low cost, and with regular upda
Contact: Simon Pinnock
European Space Agency