Researchers took extreme risks in studying the ever-mutating Ebola virus in West Africa. Ultimately the ground-breaking studies cost the lives of five of the researchers, all of whom died from the deadly Ebola virus during the research process.
The Washington Post reports that five co-authors of a breakthrough study on the deadly Ebola virus died from the virus before the research was ever even published. The breakthrough study, published Thursday in the journal Science, found that the virus has mutated during the outbreak — something that could hinder diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
The five deceased co-authors, who were from Sierra Leone’s Kenema Government Hospital Lassa fever facility, worked with the study’s lead researchers at Harvard University to examine the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. In all, the research involved more than 50 co-authors. This means that 10 percent of the authors were killed by the very virus they had set forth to study.
The Wall Street Journal notes that six co-authors died during the course of the study, five of whom died from Ebola and another by stroke. The co-authors who died during the research includes three nurses, two laboratory technicians, and a physician. WSJ reports Mbalu Fonnie, Alice Kovoma, and Alex Moigboi — all of whom were nurses — contracted Ebola while caring for a fellow nurse, who was pregnant and infected with the virus. Mohamed Fullah worked as a technician in a Lassa fever lab and is believed to have caught Ebola from a family member. Sidiki Saffa, another technician in the same lab, died of a stroke, which Sabeti attributes to “the sheer stress he was under.”
The research was a collaboration between 50 different co-authors who studied over 90 Ebola patients. The researchers found that the virus mutated significantly, and said more study is needed to figure out the impact of those changes, and that could affect the accuracy of diagnostic tests. The researchers were also able to trace the Ebola viruses entrance into Sierra Leone to a single funeral in which 13 women who attended contracted the deadly disease.
The loss of 10 percent of the research team shows exactly how costly the research of deadly viruses can be. Pardi Sabeti, who worked in the Harvard lab that oversaw the genetic sequencing at the center of the research, told The Washington Post:
“[The study was] one of the most rewarding and devastating experiences of my life.”