In ForeignPolicy.com, Laurie has an excellent article providing detailed background on Ebola: Don't Kiss the Cadaver. By all means read the whole report. Excerpt:
From the Yambuku, Nzara, and Kikwit epidemics, researchers have learned at least seven lessons that can effectively guide responders today in Guinea and its neighboring countries.
First, the index case -- the initial person contaminated with the Ebola virus -- is usually a hunter or villager who recently spent time deep in a tropical forest and came into contact with an animal carrying the virus. In Yambuku, the index case was a hunter; in Kikwit he was a charcoal-maker who spent a week burning wood in the forest to sell in town; in a prior West African outbreak, the index case was a family that killed and ate an ailing chimpanzee.
Stopping the spread must include cutting off contact between forest animals and human beings, especially tropical fruit bats that harbor the virus without harm to themselves, and the monkeys and apes that eat the bats or fruit that they chew on, contracting Ebola in the process.
A broad range of mammals can be infected lethally with Ebola experimentally, demonstrating that the probable bat-host species can pass the virus to dozens of intermediary species, from which humans get infected. There is some evidence that the virus mutates inside monkeys and apes, adapting to become more infectious to primates, including human beings.
Guinea's government has wisely issued warnings to its populace: Do not eat bats or monkeys. Moreover, it has banned the trade in wild animal flesh, or so-called "bushmeat" -- measures neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia would do well to immediately imitate.
The past epidemics indicate that outbreaks in humans are preceded by deaths among forest animals, especially primates, and may be spawned by stress on the bat populations. Across Africa, typically shy bat species pollinate the trees of the rain forests as they nocturnally scour for fruit. As the heat increases in the upper canopies of forests, due to climate change, and as humans increase their logging operations, the bat populations are now under great stress.
When distressed by such environmental changes, animals are more likely to venture near human habitation in search of food, and come down from the upper tiers of forests into tree levels filled with predatory monkeys and chimps.
Once in Nzara, McCormick found the rafters of a Sudanese textile warehouse filled with bats. South African virologist Robert Swanepoel found swarms of bats in trees inside Kikwit town, and traces of Ebola in their blood. Even bats found in a cave in Spain carried Ebola.
The bats play a vital role in the survival of rain forests: The solution is not elimination of the animals, but of human contact with them.