Scientists Report Ebola Is Mutating, Fear Virus Becoming Airborne

The Ebola virus has mutated and could be getting more contagious, according to scientists in Guinea and researchers in France. Adding to their fears, the scientists have expressed grave concerns over the Ebola virus becoming airborne.

Over 22,000 people have been infected with the Ebola virus, and 8,795 have died in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Further scares have been reported across the Western world after medical professionals returned home from crisis-hit regions.

Now hundreds of blood samples from Ebola patients in Guinea are being analysed in an attempt to detect how the virus is changing, and if it’s improving at spreading from person to person.

Geneticist Dr Anavaj Sakuntabhai commented.

“…the virus is changing quite a lot. A virus can change itself to less deadly, but more contagious and that’s something we are afraid of. We’ve now seen several cases that don’t have any symptoms at all, asymptomatic cases. These people may be the ones who could spread the virus better. We need to know how the virus (is changing) to keep up with our enemy.”

Being an RNA virus like HIV and Influenza makes Ebola more able to adapt, giving it the potential to become even more contagious, and cases of Ebola with no discernible symptoms are causing major concern.

Professor Jonathan Ball is a virologist at the University of Nottingham, UK. He says it’s unclear if more people are actually not showing symptoms in this outbreak.

“We know asymptomatic infections occur… but whether we are seeing more of it in the current outbreak is difficult to ascertain.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 fear is that Ebola could mutate to become an airborne virus which travels freely, giving the killer disease more time and more hosts in which to develop. At the present time, it is believed the virus can only be transmitted by direct contact with the body fluid of a person or animal already infected with Ebola.

Making matters even more complicated, animals like bats, rats, and monkeys (referred to as “bushmeat”) are used as a food source and consuming infected animals has been directly linked to the spread of Ebola. Doctors and government officials have pleaded with locals to stop eating these animals, but their words are often ignored.

Ebola research at the Institut Pasteur in Paris will help to show scientists why some people survive Ebola and others don’t. Two vaccines are currently being developed which scientists hope will be in human trials by the end of the year.

Professor James Di Santo, an immunologist at the Institut Pasteur, spoke about the continuing threat of Ebola.

“This particular outbreak may wane and go away, but we’re going to have another infectious outbreak at some point, because the places where the virus hides in nature, for example in small animals, is still a threat for humans in the future. We’ve seen now this is a threat that can be quite large and can extend on a global scale. We’ve learned this virus is not a problem of Africa, it’s a problem for everyone.”

It’s possible that there will never be a magic cure, and Ebola will continue to mutate indefinitely with unknowable consequences for everyone on the planet.

[Image:Marcus DiPaola/NurPhoto/Rex]