Is The Ebola Virus Mutating? Scientists Share Findings

The recent outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus claimed 8, 795 lives across West African regions. Now, French scientists at the Institut Pasteur have reported that the virus has mutated, and they are in the process of studying whether it is becoming even more contagious.

As Time notes, researchers are “analyzing hundreds of blood samples from Guinean Ebola patients in an effort to determine if the new variation poses a higher risk of transmission.”

It is a well known fact that viruses commonly mutate, but now, the main concern of researchers is the possibility of Ebola mutating into a fully airborne virus. Human geneticist Dr. Anavaj Sakuntabhai shared the possible looming threat he and his team are attempting to rule out with the BBC.

“We’ve now seen several cases that don’t have any symptoms at all, asymptomatic cases. These people may be the people who can spread the virus better, but we still don’t know that yet. A virus can change itself to less deadly, but more contagious and that’s something we are afraid of.”

There is yet to be any evidence to indicate that the Ebola virus has morphed to an airborne virus. At this time, it is still reported to be spread “via direct contact with an infected person” or by eating the meat of infected animals.

It was Institut Pasteur which first identified the Ebola virus outbreak last March, and researchers are working to develop two vaccines that they are hoping to have ready for human trials by year’s end.

As BBC notes, Ebola “is an RNA virus-like HIV and influenza-which have a high rate of mutation.” This raises levels of concern due to the potential for it to become highly contagious.

The Ebola virus has killed nearly 9,000 people mostly in Western African regions, image via BBC

It has been reported that the Ebola virus has now entered a “second phase” by The World Health Organization, noting that the focus is shifting to ending the epidemic. Statistics clarify that the massive outbreak seems to be more contained, indicating “there were fewer than 100 new cases in a week for the first time since June 2014.” In total, over the week of January 25, there were 30 cases in Guinea, four in Liberia and 65 in Sierra Leone.

However, while these statistics seem to indicate the virus is being contained, the decrease in the number of new victims may actually be a result of the current and newer cases not having any symptoms. The BBC highlighted this possibility by quoting Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham.

“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.”

The research being conducted in Paris is also said to be helpful in getting a clearer understanding as to why some individuals succumb to the deadly disease, and why others are able to survive it. Currently the survival rate is 40 percent.

Researchers collect blood samples to determine the possible mutations of the Ebola virus, image via BBc

As previously noted, 8,795 people have died from the recent Ebola outbreak while more than 22,000 people having been infected. The most certain way to ensure that the virus becomes completely contained is via “vaccination of global populations.”

[Feature image via Sky News]