Latest findings published in the journal Science suggest that the deadly Ebola virus has mutated during course of its outbreak which means its present form is markedly different from any that has existed in the past.
There are widespread fears that the situation consequently could get a lot worse – than it already is – because a mutation could potentially get in the way of the ongoing diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
“We’ve uncovered more than 300 genetic clues about what sets this outbreak apart from previous outbreaks,” stated Stephen Gire, one of the study’s co-authors and an infectious disease researcher at Harvard, said in an announcement about the findings.
“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.”
While the revelation set off a new round of speculation with people wondering if Ebola could mutate and become airborne – making it even more lethal – researchers don’t think it is scientifically possible, at least for now.
While noting the threat of genetic mutation is possible, Director of Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Tom Frieden said there are no indications that it has occurred.
“Nothing we have seen so far indicates that Ebola is spreading differently in this outbreak,” he stated in a press briefing this week.
“There is a theoretical risk, it may be very low, we simply don’t know, that Ebola could become easier to spread through genetic mutation. That risk might be very low, but it’ probably not zero. And the longer it spreads, the higher the risk.”
Scott Gottlieb – American physician and former FDA Deputy Commissioner – along with Tevi Troy – the president of the American Health Policy Institute – wrote the following analysis in The Wall Street Journal:
“It would be highly unlikely for a virus to transform in a way that changes its mode of infection. Yet this disease produces a massive level of the Ebola virus in the blood, called viral load, which can lead to excessive mutations.”
The authors, however, cautioned that “the longer the virus spreads unchecked, the greater the chance of other random mutations that could also make it harder to contain, or to target with a new drug.”
Despite assurances that a genetic alteration in genes will not cause Ebola to become an airborne disease, people all over the world are increasingly – and rightfully – getting worried.
Unfortunately, Ebola – which has killed more than 1,500 people in four countries especially in West Africa since January – can neither be cured nor vaccinated.
Patients are mostly quarantined and their symptoms are controlled through oral or intravenous fluids that contain electrolytes.
However, it can be prevented. According to CDC guidelines, if you travel to an area with known Ebola cases, make sure to do the following:
- Practice careful hygiene. Avoid contact with blood and body fluids.
- Do not handle items that may have come in contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids.
- Avoid funeral or burial rituals that require handling the body of someone who has died from Ebola.
- Avoid contact with bats and nonhuman primates or blood, fluids, and raw meat prepared from these animals.
- Avoid hospitals where Ebola patients are being treated. For American citizens, the U.S. embassy or consulate is often able to provide advice on facilities.
- After you return, monitor your health for 21 days and seek medical care immediately if you develop symptoms.