Scientists discover worrying virus mutation in Ebola outbreak

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The Journal of Science has today published that the Ebola virus has mutated repeatedly during the current outbreak causing concern for scientists and doctors hoping to develop a vaccine for the disease.

The current outbreak is different from previous outbreaks which may potentially adversely affect the accuracy of diagnostic tests and the effectiveness of vaccines or treatments for the disease.

Harvard disease researcher Stephen Gire  has said  “we’ve uncovered more than 300 genetic clues about what sets this outbreak apart from previous outbreaks …Although we don’t know whether these differences are related to the severity of the current outbreak, by sharing these data with the research community, we hope to speed up our understanding of this epidemic and support global efforts to contain it.”

The Washington Post reports:

In a collaboration led by scientists at Harvard University and aided by officials at Sierra Leone’s health ministry, researchers sequenced Ebola virus genomes from 78 patients beginning in the early days of the outbreak this spring. Those 99 samples — some patients were tested more than once — suggested that the outbreak began with a single human infection before spreading rapidly, like a spark that grows into a wildfire.

Ebola’s arrival in Sierra Leone in May started with a funeral, according to Thursday’s findings. A young pregnant woman tested positive for the virus and was treated at Kenema Government Hospital. Health workers who traced her contacts discovered that she and more than a dozen other women recently had attended the burial of a traditional healer who had been treating Ebola patients near the Sierra Leone-Guinea border. All of them had been infected.

The first transmission of the virus was likely from an animal to a person.

The study shows more than 300 mutations have occurred since the Ebola outbreak began this year. Whenever Ebola passes from one person to another some mutations will occur.

Science Magazine also today  reports that “the ongoing Ebola virus disease outbreak is taking an appalling toll on health workers in West Africa. More than 240 have been infected and more than 120 have died. At Kenema Government Hospital (KGH) in Sierra Leone, where the country’s first case was diagnosed, more than 2 dozen nurses, doctors, and support staff have died of Ebola.”

Read the full study here


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