The latest outbreak of the Ebola virus has caused an epidemic that is flooding West Africa. On Thursday, a new study published in the journal Science, shows that the current outbreak of the Ebola virus has mutated rapidly, which impedes finding a cure for the disease.
The current epidemic has killed more than 1,500 people in four countries, and although it is moving quickly, the Washington Post reported that the results from the latest study “offer new insights into the origins of the largest and most deadly Ebola outbreak in history.”
The first outbreak of the Ebola virus was in 1976. According to the New York Times, Scientists believe “bats are the natural reservoir for the virus,” and that humans originally caught the virus “from eating food that bats have drooled or defecated on, or by coming in contact with surfaces covered in infected bat droppings and then touching their eyes or mouths.”
Doctors Without Borders reported that the current outbreak seems to have started “in a village near Guéckédou, Guinea, where bat hunting is common.”
The recent study on the virus was conducted in June, by health officials in Sierra Leone who worked with scientists at Harvard University. They sequenced the 99 Ebola genomes from 78 individuals in Sierra Leone who had been diagnosed with the virus.
According to the Washington Post, five of the paper’s more than 50 co-authors died from Ebola before publication which shows the toll the virus has taken on both the general public, and health workers.
The lead author of the study, and a computational biologist at Harvard University, Pardis Sabeti, reported that the Ebola virus twice the mutations spreading through humans it West Africa, than it did while spreading through animals in the last decade. “We’ve found over 250 mutations that are changing in real time as we’re watching,” Sabeti said.
“In general, these viruses are amazing because they are these tiny things that can do a lot of damage,” said Sabeti. “The more time you give a virus to mutate and the more human-to-human transmission you see, the more opportunities you give it to fall upon some [mutation] that could make it more easily transmissible or more pathogenic.”
An infectious disease reporter at Harvard, and one of the study’s co-authors, Stephen Gire, reported that through the study they “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,” Gire said.
Ebola has been called one of the world’s most deadly diseases by Doctors without Borders, due to the fact that it is “a highly infectious virus that can kill up to 90 percent of the people who catch it.” They went on to write that although the World Health Organization has declared the current Ebola epidemic an “international public health emergency,” the international effort to stem the outbreak has been “dangerously inadequate.”