Birds could spread Ebola virus, study suggests

The Ebola virus closely resembles several bird viruses, suggesting birds may be able to spread the deadly virus to humans, researchers say

The Ebola virus closely resembles several bird viruses, researchers have found. They say the findings suggest birds may be able to spread the deadly virus to humans.

Ebola has killed several hundred people in central Africa since it was discovered in 1976. During outbreaks, the hemorrhagic fever can kill 50 to 90 per cent of infected patients, according to the World Health Organization.

Researchers at Purdue University in Indiana have found the outer protein shell of Ebola has a biochemical structure similar to several viruses carried by birds.

"We knew these viruses were inwardly similar, and now we see their outer similarity as well," said Purdue biology Prof. David Sanders in a release.

"While bird transmission of Ebola is by no means certain, the resemblance among all these viruses should encourage health officials to be on guard for it," he said.

The findings bolster the case that Ebola and the bird viruses share a common ancestor.

Scientists believe Ebola spread from animals to humans, but they haven't identified its natural host. Sanders said the research should be a priority since Ebola is considered a possible biological weapon.

Other viruses that infect humans, including influenza, have an avian reservoir.

The study appears in the Journal of Virology.