Ebola Survivor May Have Started Latest Outbreak — 5 Years Later
New preliminary genetic analysis suggests that the current Ebola outbreak in Guinea may have originated from a survivor of the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, rather than animal-to-animal transmission. human.
According to the preprinted report, the outbreak likely started with the survivor infecting a sexual partner with the deadly virus through semen – after the virus has been dormant in humans for at least 5 years.
The analysis, posted online Friday, was conducted by scientists from Guinea, the Pasteur Institute in Senegal, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the University of Edinburgh and the company PraesensBio.
According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), the longest period for which an Ebola survivor would have shed the virus was around 500 days.
The previous Ebola outbreak resulted in 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths, mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the new report. The current outbreak in Guinea has resulted in 18 cases and killed nine people, according to The New York Times.
The news is “disappointing,” said William Schaffner, MD, a communicable disease epidemiologist and pandemic preparedness expert at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
“Who would have thought that the Ebola virus could sit dormant in a person – a man – for 5 years and then trigger another epidemic?” Schaffner said. “Until this news arrived, I think we all thought this latest Ebola outbreak was the result of an introduction by an animal species.”
“This gives a whole new public health resonance to the notion that male Ebola survivors are a potential reservoir for this infection for many years,” he said.
Schaffner said the testes, in addition to the eye and the central nervous system, are places in the body where the Ebola virus is known to hide.
The new report raises the question, he said, whether some of Africa’s past epidemics were not introduced from nature, but instead happened because a survivor initiated the infection. at a partner.
The particular danger of the virus sleeping in the testes, rather than the eyes or the nervous system, is that it could be sexually transmitted to someone, Schaffner said.
The results of the DNA analysis could exacerbate the stigma of survivors, he said.
It also raises the question of whether generalized vaccinations are needed in Equatorial Africa, he said.
Moreover, even though the Ebola virus vaccines are very effective, he said, it is not known how long they could protect people.
Another public health measure could be promoting greater condom use, he said, which presents its own challenges.
In light of this latest news, male survivors will come under the research spotlight, Schaffner said, and volunteers will be asked to provide semen samples to find out if this is a one-time event or something. something that happens commonly.
Michael Ryan, MD, executive director of the World Health Organization (WHO) health emergencies program, said in a briefing Friday that the WHO had sent more than 30,000 doses of the vaccine to the country.
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