This year’s Ebola outbreak in Guinea was likely caused by someone originally infected during the 2014-16 West African eruption, according to new research with serious implications for the lifespan of one of the world’s most deadly pathogens.
The latest outbreak killed nine people this year, and the previous outbreak killed more than 11,000 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Genetic sequencing revealed that samples from the current outbreak are closely related to strains from August 2014, according to the report, released Friday.
It’s very likely that a person who contracted the virus before and then survived it passed it on to someone else, the study concluded, though it warned that “these results are still preliminary and more sequencing and analysis is underway.” .
“This is really amazing,” Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University in Washington DC, wrote on Twitter. “The implications for controlling Ebola are extremely concerning.”
Investigators had previously assumed that the latest outbreak in Guinea, declared Feb. 14, was caused by transmission from an animal such as a bat. Both outbreaks started in the same region, close to the border with Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The highly contagious disease is spread through contact with bodily fluids. It causes haemorrhagic fever and severe vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding.
It is rare for survivors to transmit the disease, but the virus can hide in the human body in places where the immune system cannot reach it, including the eye, testes, and central nervous system. Scientists have previously discovered that the virus can persist in a patient for 500 days, and sexual transmission of the disease is known.
The new research suggests it can last four or five times as long.
The World Health Organization initiated a vaccination program in the region at the heart of the outbreak on Feb. 23. But the new research has sparked calls for more widespread vaccination in West and Central Africa, where jabs made by Johnson & Johnson and Merck generally only deployed in response to outbreaks.
The findings suggest that “we need to step up our efforts to provide Ebola vaccines to people in affected communities, including survivors,” Rasmussen said on Twitter.
The study was conducted by Guinea’s Healthy Ministry, the Institut Pasteur in Senegal, the University of Nebraska Medical Center in the US, the PraesensBio company and the University of Edinburgh.
The virus could have been transmitted through sex, the researchers suggested.
Dr. Christian Happi, head of the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, called the results of the study “astonishing,” but cautioned that the researchers may have been overlooked by pointing to possible sexual transmission without providing any evidence.
“I think it’s a bit sloppy to make such statements. It would have been best to say we don’t know the origin of this virus,” he said, pointing out that many Ebola survivors are stigmatized and shunned. through their communities.
Like other Sub-Saharan countries, Guinea has not been badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with only 102 confirmed deaths from 17,591 cases in the past year.