More than 22,000 people have been infected and about 9,000 are known to have died in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since what evolved into the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola was identified last March.
Now, scientists tracking the Ebola outbreak in Guinea say the virus has mutated, and researchers at the Institut Pasteur in France are investigating whether it could have become more contagious.
Experts are analysing hundreds of blood samples from Ebola patients in Guinea, tracking how the virus is changing, and trying to determine whether it’s able to jump more easily from person to person.
“We know the virus is changing quite a lot,” human geneticist Dr. Anavaj Sakuntabhai told BBC News. “That’s important for diagnosing [new cases] and for treatment. We need to know how the virus [is changing] to keep up with our enemy.”
“We’ve now seen several cases that don’t have any symptoms at all, asymptomatic cases,” Dr Sakuntabhai continued.
“These people may be the people who can spread the virus better, but we still don’t know that yet. A virus can change itself to less deadly but more contagious and that’s something we are afraid of.”
According to Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at Nottingham University, it’s still unclear whether more people are actually not showing symptoms in this outbreak compared with previous ones.
“We know asymptomatic infections occur… but whether we are seeing more of it in the current outbreak is difficult to ascertain,” Professor Ball said.
“It could simply be a numbers game: that the more infection there is out in the wider population, then obviously the more asymptomatic infections we are going to see.”
Another common concern raised in the BBC report was that while the virus has more time and more “hosts” to develop in, Ebola could mutate and eventually become airborne.
Fortunately, there is no evidence to suggest that is happening. The virus is still only passed through direct contact with infected people’s body fluids.
By: TCC Staffer