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Friday, August 29, 2014

Ebola's Genetic Variances

"Twenty-thousand is a scale that has, I think, not ever been anticipated in terms of an Ebola outbreak."
"That's not saying we expect 20,000 cases. That is not saying we would accept 20,000 cases. I think that's completely unacceptable."
"[But a robust plan is required in preparation for a] very bad case scenario."
Dr. Bruce Aylward, World Health Organization assistant director-general

"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 outbreak is] expanding exponentially [emerging from remote, forested villages to major cities which] raises the spectre of increasing local and international [spread]."
Stephen Gire, research scientist, Broad Institute and Harvard University
Medical staff in protective clothing transport a patient infected with the Ebola virus from an airplane to an ambulance at Hamburg Airport, northern Germany, on Aug. 27, 2014. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

West Africa has been afflicted with the worst outbreak of Ebola virus disease that any nightmare scenario might have predicted would one day occur. A U.S.-led team of international scientists has produced a report stating its success in deciphering the killer strain's genetic code with the use of samples from 78 patients infected in the early days of the outbreak in Sierra Leone.

The report has the opinion that the outbreak in Sierra Leone was initiated by the burial of a faith healer who had himself treated Ebola patients in Guinea where the hemorrhagic fever virus had been on low simmer for months previously. At that burial thirteen mourners developed Ebola. To date, 1,552 people are known to have died in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, out of a total of 3,069 people infected. And now Senegal too has been affected.

Of the researchers involved in the international group effort to understand the situation better and parse the virus's genetic code, five of the almost 60 researchers became infected and died of the disease they were decoding. But the team published the results of their research in the journal Science, to reveal that the West African variant, though related to the first reported Ebola strains has genetically altered itself.

Even as the WHO is warning that the outbreak is accelerating and might exceed 20,000 cases, the study reveals that the virus is swiftly undergoing genetic mutations whose effect has the potential to make it difficult to diagnose, treat or prevent with vaccines. It is understood that the caseload, in reality, is without doubt much higher than reported. Particularly in large urban areas where infections are breaking out faster than they can be reported.
A Liberian health worker disinfects a corpse Friday after the man died in a classroom now used as Ebola isolation ward in Monrovia. John Moore/Getty Images

Canada's three scientists have been moved by the country's public health agency out of the mobile laboratory set up in Sierra Leone, as a protective measure after three people living in the same hotel as the Canadian scientists contracted Ebola. Many of the mutations discovered by the scientific team have altered protein sequences which are the very targets for experimental vaccines and antibody-based therapies.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health will begin testing an experimental Ebola vaccine on humans next week. The preliminary trial will test the vaccine in healthy American adults in Maryland, while British experts will test the vaccine in healthy people in the U.K., Gambia and Mali. The trial accelerated to respond to the outbreak emergency that has been the source of riots as quarantines were put into place and people reacted adversely, fearing a conspiracy of the West.

Those infected with Ebola are felt to be contagious when they are sick with it only, not while the virus is in its incubating stage. The time from exposure to verifiable, symptomatic infection can range from two to 21 days, with the virus transmitted through contact with bodily fluids.

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