Why was the last Ebola epidemic so much worse than previous?

❝ In late 2013, the Ebola virus began spreading through a small village in the West African nation of Guinea following human contact with an animal, likely a fruit bat. This was the start of what turned out to be the most widespread of all recorded Ebola outbreaks, resulting in 28,646 confirmed and suspected cases of illness, and 11,323 recorded deaths.

The unprecedented outbreak left a devastating toll on the social and economic infrastructure in West Africa, but it also forever changed the perspective from which virologists and epidemiologists study and track infectious diseases.

❝ Kristian Andersen…set out to determine why the recent epidemic was different from previous Ebola outbreaks. Specifically, his team wanted to figure out exactly how the virus spread so rapidly—and why it had such devastating effects on the people infected.

❝ Ebola is in a category of viruses that are especially prone to mutations because they lack the ability to correct mistakes during replication. This means that a virus such as Ebola can rapidly change as it spreads, for example, by evolving into a more deadly virus. That is the scenario that appears to have played out during the epidemic in West Africa.

But how? As described in a paper in the recent issue of Cell, a peer-reviewed scientific journal focused on the life sciences, Andersen and his group found what could be the smoking gun: a mutation—dubbed the GP-A82V mutant—on a particular type of protein, the viral receptor glycoprotein, in samples of the virus from the epidemic. This mutation increased the ability of the virus to infect human dendritic cells, the type of immune cells that the Ebola virus uses to make copies of itself.

A few more links in the article are useful for further perusal. I think we’re all fortunate that Andersen’s study landed on target in a reasonable stretch of time. No one knows when and exactly where the next outbreak of Ebola will strike. Perhaps by then his research will have better equipped other medical professionals to fight back and save more lives.

8 thoughts on “Why was the last Ebola epidemic so much worse than previous?

  1. Cassandra says:

    Violence this weekend in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has again put a halt to efforts to contain the spread of the Ebola virus. The DRC’s Ministry of Health reports that rebels in the Rwenzori neighborhood of Beni killed at least 12 people and kidnapped another dozen over the weekend — causing “all vaccination and awareness activities [to be] suspended on Sunday.”
    https://www.axios.com/democratic-republic-congo-ebola-virus-rebel-attacks-ed232f4f-4479-44e0-bbd2-c71452f579d8.html See also https://www.axios.com/conflict-plus-ebola-makes-a-deadly-combination-congo-5a3e4558-93b2-4d47-a706-dffc74f1f8b5.html “Health officials’ longstanding fears about the potent mix of armed conflict in weak states — combined with a highly infectious disease outbreak — are being realized. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), an Ebola virus outbreak is now at a tipping point and threatens to expand. (Oct 18, 2018)

    • Update says:

      The head of the World Health Organization said Monday it can fight the deadly Ebola outbreak in Congo despite the withdrawal of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, insisting: “We can cover it.” https://www.apnews.com/37248f718aa440adb71114fd4667f42a
      The comments by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus came in the wake of commentaries in two medical journals appealing to the CDC to return to the epidemic zone in Congo — saying its expertise is needed. The U.S. experts have been sidelined for weeks, ordered away from the region because of State Department security concerns.
      Violence by rebel groups has complicated efforts to battle what is now the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak. The CDC — which is twice as large as WHO — has said its staff would return to the epidemic area once it is safe.

  2. Update says:

    The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has spread to a city of nearly 1 million residents. There are now 30 confirmed cases and 15 deaths in the city of Butembo reported in the latest update provided by the World Health Organization (WHO). The number of cases in the city center is still low, according to Doctors Without Borders, but that number is rising quickly in more outlying districts and suburbs. https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/12/ebola-outbreak-reaches-city-of-1-million-residents/
    WHO: Ebola Virus Disease Democratic Republic of the Congo External Situation Report 19 (December 12, 2018) http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/276811/SITREP_EVD_DRC_20181212-eng.pdf
    Butembo airport (RUE) Democratic Republic of the Congo https://www.dohop.com/travel-guide/airports/RUE/Russellville%20Regional

  3. Cassandra says:

    The World Health Organization is projecting that the devastating Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will worsen amid post-presidential election tensions.
    (Jan 19, 2019) https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/WHO-Ebola-Threatening-DR-Congo-Bigger-Cities-Uganda-Rwanda-20190119-0005.html “This is the most complicated setting we’ve ever experienced in order to stop an Ebola outbreak,” Peter Salama, World Health Organization (WHO) deputy director-general for emergency preparedness and response, stated in a Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) interview. “At a minimum, it will take six further months to stop.” The outbreak is seemingly threatening to spill over into the larger cities of the African nation. Ebola being discovered in Kayina “raises the alarm” for the deadly virus to reach major thoroughfare Goma, Salama warned. http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2019/01/who-expert-ebola-outbreak-continue-least-6-more-months

  4. TickTock says:

    “Why Doctors Without Borders Is Suspending Work In The Ebola Epicenter In Congo” (NPR 2/1/19) https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2019/03/01/699462782/why-doctors-without-borders-is-pulling-out-of-the-ebola-epicenter-in-congo
    The World Health Organization said in an update issued Thursday there was a “high proportion” of people with Ebola dying in the community, suggesting those with the lethal disease were avoiding health clinics. The U.N. health agency also acknowledged that only a small number of new cases were previously known to authorities, meaning officials are unable to track where Ebola is spreading. (TIME 2/1/19) http://time.com/5541646/congo-ebola-patients-missing-clinic-attack/

  5. Update says:

    The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has denounced an attack on an Ebola treatment center in the restive east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) during a visit to the facility, just hours after a raid which killed a policeman and wounded a health worker. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/breaks-heart-chief-decries-raid-drc-ebola-centre-190309193641595.html The Butembo facility reopened last week after an attack by gunmen the previous Wednesday forced its closure. This was the third attack on the center according to the mayor of Butembo, who branding the attackers as “terrorists” who wanted to “kill the sick”.
    (re: Mai-Mai see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mai-Mai )
    On Thursday, a leading medical charity warned that efforts to tackle the outbreak were falling short, accusing the DRC’s authorities of failing to contain it because of an overly militarized response that was alienating patients and their families and contributing to the creation of a “toxic” atmosphere. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/toxic-atmosphere-undermining-drc-ebola-outbreak-response-msf-190307142358603.html Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French acronym MSF, highlighted that more than 40 percent of deaths were occurring in communities rather than in Ebola treatment centers.

  6. King Leopold's Ghost says:

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hopes to send experts to Congo in the next few weeks to train international and local personnel in the fight against a raging Ebola outbreak that has killed nearly 600 people and is far from under control, the CDC director said Thursday in an interview. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2019/03/14/us-hopes-send-more-experts-congo-ebola-outbreak-rages/?utm_term=.426e74b75444
    The Ebola outbreak in Congo is the most serious since a sprawling Ebola epidemic devastated three countries in West Africa between 2014 and 2016, killing more than 11,000. Ebola spreads through contact with the bodily fluids of its victims and is fatal in as many as 90 percent of cases.

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