New evidence suggests that the Ebola virus in West Africa is more contagious than previously thought
WASHINGTON — New evidence shows that the virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo is more infectious than previously believed, potentially opening the door for the world to take a step toward curbing the spread of the disease in the world’s poorest country.
Scientists with the University of Wisconsin-Madison said they discovered a genetic variant in the virus that is different from the variant found in people in West African nations.
They said the finding provides a strong argument for the need to be cautious about spreading the virus abroad and encourages the U.S. and other Western nations to do more to stop the spread.
The findings, published online Thursday in the journal Science, could open the door to a U.N. meeting later this month to discuss how to contain the Ebola pandemic.
“We’re seeing a dramatic increase in the amount of transmission,” said co-author Stephen D. Bremner, a professor of medicine and microbiology and microbiostatistics.
“If we continue to have this exponential increase, then you’re going to have a very, very rapid pandemic that could spread rapidly in a very short period of time.”
Bremner and co-authors found the mutation in a strain of Ebola that causes the disease was present in people from Senegal, Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda.
They say this new mutation is likely to affect the Ebola strain that is causing the most deaths, and it could explain why the current Ebola virus is not spreading in Africa.
While it is not clear why people in these countries are infected with the new Ebola variant, the new mutation suggests that there may be more cases in West Africans.
“It is really important to understand what’s going on in the African continent,” Bremners co-senior author Andrew J. Brown, a medical epidemiologist and professor of pathology and microbiomics at the UW-Madison, said in a statement.
“We know that the disease is not confined to West Africa.
But this new variant is a major piece of the puzzle.
We don’t know why.”
The findings could also help to answer questions about how long people in Africa are infected.
People in countries with high levels of infection are more likely to have symptoms and be hospitalized.
The U.K. recently announced that it is suspending travel to Guinea and Liberia because of the new strain of the Ebola, which could also cause more deaths.
The new mutation, which Bremers and Brown did not identify, was found in a different region of the genome that is found in other people from countries where the virus has been present.
The mutations, which were not previously known, were found in four other regions in the genome.
The mutation appears to be common to other strains of the virus, but it is rare in humans.
In Africa, some regions of the genomes are so similar that they cannot be compared to the human genome.
In other cases, they are nearly identical.
This makes it difficult to identify a mutation in the human genetic code, said Bremsner, who led the study.
The new mutations were found to be in a region of about 25,000 base pairs in the region where the new variant was found.
“This is an interesting result, but this is really only one part of the picture,” said Daniel J. Rees, a virologist at the University Hospital of Lausanne in Switzerland who was not involved in the study, according to a news release.
“If you take a more cautious view of the situation, it’s more likely that this is a genetic difference between the two populations that affects transmission rates, rather than a single gene.”
Rees said that while it is possible that the new virus is causing more cases, it is also possible that some of these new cases are unrelated to the new mutated variant.
The results also raise questions about the potential benefits of curbing travel in countries that have high rates of infection.
For example, many of the countries with the highest rates of Ebola infection are in the developing world.
“It is very difficult to make sense of the numbers of cases in these places,” Bredes said.
“But we do know that there are a number of countries that are far less likely to get the virus than are the countries that tend to get it the most.”
Bredes added that it was possible that a single person infected in one country might spread the virus to another.
That is why there is an urgent need to make sure that all of the affected countries are monitored closely, he said.
“One of the things we’re going through right now is the fear of a global pandemic,” said Breders co-lead author Andrew T. Sankararaman, a postdoctoral fellow in virology at the UC San Francisco Department of Medicine.
“Our goal is to stop this pandemic and we’re working very hard to do that.”
The new findings were presented at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which takes place Nov