Animal-to-Human Transfer Caused Ebola Outbreak

Genomic surveillance may lead to improved Ebola vaccines and treatments

(RxWiki News) Researchers continue to search for answers in the the West African Ebola outbreak — now the largest in history. One research team has made a discovery that could lead to improved treatments and vaccines for the deadly virus.

On the heels of the Aug. 28 World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that more than 20,000 people could become infected with Ebola, researchers found that Ebola was transferred from an animal to a human in late 2013, causing the current outbreak.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists said the findings could allow researchers to develop improved methods for fighting the spread of Ebola, such as better detection methods and improved vaccines and treatments.

"Seek medical care if you have come into contact with a wild animal."

Using genomic sequencing technology, Pardis Sabeti, MD, PHD, and colleagues located the exact point in the virus' history when it moved from an animal to a human.

Genomic sequencing is a method in which researchers closely analyze the genetic makeup of a virus sample. During this process, Dr. Sabeti and team noticed rapid changes in the virus's makeup, which led the researchers to call for improved monitoring of Ebola's genome — a process called genomic surveillance.

“Dr. Sabeti’s research shows the power of using genomic analysis to track emerging viral outbreaks,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, in a press release. “This ability produces valuable information that can help inform public health decisions and actions.”

Watching for genetic changes in the Ebola virus could provide insight into how it spreads and infects hosts, according to an NIH press release.

Ebola can cause the often fatal Ebola virus disease, marked by fever and bleeding. It has primarily affected four West African countries — Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Guinea — but it crossed the border into a fifth, Senegal, Aug. 29, the Washington Post reports.

Review Date: 
August 29, 2014