An end of the deadly Ebola virus disease may not be in sight yet. In the last three years, the Ebola virus really wrecked a great havoc in certain countries of West Africa, killing a large number of people.
According to experts, it is estimated that over 28,000 people were infected between 2013 and 2016, with about 11,000 killed. In Nigeria alone, over 10 deaths was recorded.
Recent studies show that the last may have not been of the disease as mutations (transformations) have been identified in the Ebola virus which makes it more infectious for humans and may have increased the infectivity of the disease during the recent epidemics.
This discovery was reported and published by two independent teams of scientists in the journal Cell. One team was led by Jeremy Luban from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the other by Jonathan Ball of Britain’s Nottingham University.
The study to examine whether the virus might have changed genetically in response to infection of such large numbers of people, shows that mutations of the gene that encodes the Ebola virus glycoprotein increased the virus’ ability to infect cells of humans and other primates.
“Ebola virus is thought to circulate in an unknown animal reservoir and rarely cross over into people,” said Jeremy Luban
“Until recently, the human disease outbreaks have been short lived, and the virus has had little opportunity to adapt genetically to the human host,” said Luban.
“If you introduce a virus into a new host, like humans, it may need to adapt to better infect and spread in that host,” said Jonathan Ball.
The mutations may have increased the spread of the Ebola virus spread during the outbreak by increasing its infectivity in human cells.
According to Ball: “These data revealed that specific amino acid substitutions in the EBOV GP have increased tropism for human cells, while reducing tropism for bat cells.
“As with previous human outbreaks, the West African epidemic began following the successful cross-species transmission of EBOV from an animal reservoir into humans, with mounting evidence that a number of bat species are the likely natural reservoir and maintain the virus between human outbreaks.”
How the virus crosses over into the human population is through close contact with the blood, secretions or other bodily fluids of infected animals and it is also spread through contact with body fluids of infected persons.
“It’s important to understand how these viruses evolve during outbreaks,” says Luban.
“By doing so, we will be better prepared should these viruses spill over to humans in the future.”