Researchers at the Institut Pasteur in France, who last March were the first to isolate the Ebola virus causing this massive outbreak in three West African countries, have been tracking how the virus is changing.
Since the outbreak, more than 22,000 people have been infected with Ebola and almost 9,000 have died in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The survival rate of the current outbreak is around 40%. There have been more cases and deaths in this outbreak than in all others combined.
The most severely affected countries, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia have inadequate health systems, lacking human resources and infrastructure.
Institut Pasteurhas started the process of analysingmore than 600blood samples from Ebola patients in Guinea. The goal is to understand better the way that the virus progresses. Indeed, Ebola is an RNA virus, which is prone to high rate of mutations that may affect virulence and/or transmissibility. After discovering some asymptomatic cases,researchers are testing the hypothesis that these individuals may spread the virus better and in a more dangerous way.
So far,people can be infected by Ebola virus only by coming into contact with blood, secretions, or other bodily fluids of infected subjects, according to the World Health Organisation. The concern shared by researchers and public health officials is that by mutating, the virus may spread more easily, through other routes and, possibly, become airborne.
Researchers at Institut Pasteur are now using next generation sequencing to map the mutations and test their impact on disease severity and virus transmission.
No licensed vaccines are available yet, but 2 potential vaccinesare undergoing human safety testingat Institut Pasteur.
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