By: Seth Bollenbecker
Just when you thought the disease scare of last year was under control, Ebola has come back to take another swing. According to researchers, the virus has already mutated into multiple strands.
Scientists at the Intitut of Pasteur in France are conducting research to determine if Ebola has become any more contagious since its discovery. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Jan. 30, the aggressive disease had infected 22,124 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia alone, of which have resulted in nearly 9,000 deaths.
Since Ebola is a virus linked to RNA, the probability of mutation is extremely likely, as seen in other viruses like influenza and HIV. Mutations in the virus genome could lead to adaptations that allow it to become more contagious and thrive in environments in which it struggled to live before. Blood samples collected from hundreds of patients in Guinea are being analyzed to detect any changes that have occurred in the strands.
Several cases have now been found to show no symptoms (asymptomatic). Patients exemplifying these traits are the most worrisome for researchers since this means the disease can be spreading under the radar of typical diagnostic tests. Without any symptoms, Ebola is not something to be worried about superficially; however, a small mutation could turn every silent case into an extremely deadly one.
Ebola is not hopping on the backs of any air molecules to spread though, at least not yet. The virus can only be spread through bodily fluids when in close contact with an infected patient. Although the disease is mutating, scientists say that a tremendous amount of changes must take place within its genetic code for it to become airborne. In the mean time, worries are more centered on the ability of Ebola to change in response to vaccines and become more transmittable.
There is one question still unanswered by current research: why do some patients survive Ebola infections and others do not? Survival rates are situated at around 40 percent in the outbreak. By comparing data from survivors and non-survivors, scientists are creating two vaccines that they hope will reach human trials by the end of this year.
Although current day-to-day infection rates are falling, many may be going undetected or unreported. The blunt panic of the disease has passed, but plenty of research must continue if it is ever to be medically halted.
Ebola will always be on its toes, the world population should be as well.