Science

Ebola Outbreak may have started from a survivor years ago

ESTIMATED READING TIME~1.5 minute read

Questions answered in this post:

1:What is the current status of this Ebola Outbreak?

Ebola vaccination starts in Guinea to curb new outbreak | WHO | Regional  Office for Africa
Guinea Officials vaccinating past Ebola Survivors. (WHO | Regional Office of Africa)

Before the all too familiar coronavirus outbreak, there was the Ebola virus outbreak that took over 11,000 lives in 2016. Now the virus has struck again, breaking out in Guinea for the first time since the epidemic that ravaged West Africa in 2014-2016. As of March 12, 2021, 18 cases of the Ebola virus (EVD) have been notified (14 confirmed; 4 suspected), and it has resulted in 7 hospitalizations and 9 deaths in Guinea. However, the risk associated with this outbreak’s transmission and harm are very low according to the WHO.

2:How did this outbreak start?

The interesting thing about this outbreak is that it most likely started from a survivor of the previous epidemic back in 2014-2016. According to new analysis, a survivor of the major epidemic in 2014-2016 may have kept the virus in his body for 5 years and transmitted it to a sexual partner. This is surprising because previously, the longest time EVD stayed in the body was 500 days. In addition, this strain of EVD has only “12 or so” genetic mutations compared to the old strain during the 2014-2016 epidemic. If EVD was under sustained human to human transmission, it would have over 100 genetic mutations compared to the old strain, suggesting that a subject has harbored the virus in them for a long time.

During this new analysis scientists have figured out that EVD can be sustained in the body for much longer than they had first researched. Furthermore, LiveScience writer Yasemine Sapukonglu explains why EVD can live in the body for so long. She writes, “the Ebola virus could hide out in the bodies of survivors, especially in “privileged” areas of the body where the immune system is less active, such as in the eyeballs or the testes.” Scientists have also found that in addition to being able to sustain itself for a long time in the host, the Ebola virus also has the ability to mutate new strains that cause new outbreaks, similar to the outbreak in Guinea that has taken nine lives.

New Ebola Outbreak Suggests The Virus Might Lurk For Years Inside People
Microscopic image of the Ebola Virus strain living in a human subject. (ScienceAlert)

3:How do we fight against this virus?

If the Ebola virus is actually staying in host’s systems for long periods of time, past survivors are subject to sparking new outbreaks across Africa and maybe the rest of the world at any point in time. However, Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt university, offers insight to a possible solution. He emphasizes, “If survivors with lingering viruses in their bodies can prompt new outbreaks, vaccinating much of equatorial Africa against Ebola even when there isn’t an outbreak may be the solution,” (New York Times). Vaccinating the epicenter of the previous outbreak may be the only way to ensure that past survivors can fight off possible Ebola lingering in their bodies, and can protect others from a new transmission of Ebola virus.

TL;DR

  • The Ebola virus has broken out again in Guniea, resulting in at least 18 cases and 9 deaths so far.
  • Scientists suspect that the Ebola virus strain has been hiding out in a human’s body for 5 years since the last Ebola virus outbreak and was recently transmitted through a sexual partner.
  • Ebola virus has the ability to live in a host’s body for much longer periods of time than first expected. In addition, Ebola virus has a high-outbreak potential.
  • Vaccinating the epicenter of the previous outbreak may be the only way to ensure that past survivors can fight off possible Ebola lingering in their bodies, and protect other from a new transmission of the Ebola virus.

Citations

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/03/new-ebola-outbreak-likely-sparked-person-infected-5-years-ago

https://www.livescience.com/ebola-lingered-survivor-sparked-outbreak.html

https://www.livescience.com/48311-ebola-causes-symptoms-treatment.html

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