Ebola Virus is Mutating AKA: You May Have a New Strain of Ebola and Test Negative

EBOLA UPDATE

Here is something tragic-heroic that should go down in history: 

The Ebola virus is mutating so fast that standard tests, based on only a few old strains, may show a false negative for someone infected by a new strain. This is the warning left behind by the five co-authors of a new Ebola study (involving 50 researchers) who died of the virus before their research was published. Ignore at our peril. 

“We were able to sequence and analyze our samples with about a 10-day turnaround. This is unprecedented, as earlier studies have usually taken many months with much smaller datasets,” says Daniel J. Park, a co-author and computational biologist at the Broad Institute, in an email interview with Mashable.

The research, which used an advanced genetic analysis technique known as deep sequencing, reveals that the disease is rapidly accumulating mutations as it spreads.

The team found 395 genetic changes, including 341 that make this outbreak distinct from the viral genomes tied to previous Ebola outbreaks, and 50 that are unique to the West African outbreak more broadly.

So far 395 genetic changes have been documented.

The ongoing Ebola virus disease outbreak is taking an appalling toll on health workers in West Africa. More than 240 have been infected and more than 120 have died. At Kenema Government Hospital (KGH) in Sierra Leone, where the country’s first case was diagnosed, more than 2 dozen nurses, doctors, and support staff have died of Ebola. KGH is where many of the samples were collected for a paper published online today in Science that analyzes the genetics of the virus responsible for the disease. Highlighting the danger to those caring for infected people, five of the paper’s co-authors—all experienced members of the hospital’s Lassa fever team—died of Ebola before its publication. (A sixth co-author, uninfected, also recently died as well.)

 

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Dan Mullin is an active writer and editor for the Pluto Daily who covered the 2014 Ebola Outbreak. Mullin attended the Wake Forest School of Medicine before leaving to pursue his lifelong science goal of allowing humans to live forever via a computer/brain transfer.