The hemorrhagic disease emerged in mid-March in parts of Guinea, and is now feared to have spread to neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Initial symptoms are severe fever, headaches, muscle pain and weakness. Those can advance to life-threatening diarrhea, vomiting and hemorrhaging.
Humans can become infected from bats, gorillas and forest antelope, then spread it to others through contact with infected blood, bodily fluids and tissue. Fatality rates can be as high as 90 percent.
Guinean officials on Wednesday announced a ban on the consumption of bat soup, grilled bat and other local delicacies.
"We discovered the vector [infectious] agent of the Ebola virus is the bat," Remy Lamah, the country’s health minister, told Bloomberg News. "We sent messages everywhere to announce the ban. People must even avoid consumption of rats and monkeys."
Experts have determined that the current West Africa outbreak is due to the Zaire strain of the virus, which killed 187 people when it last emerged in 2007 in parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This is the first time that the Zaire strain has emerged in any West African nation. Some experts believe it may have been carried by bats from central Africa, where it is more common.
Photo: World Health Organization