What better time to open the southern border, right, Governor Moonbeam?
For the first time, scientists have been able to follow the spread of an Ebola outbreak almost in real time, by sequencing the virus’ genome from people in Sierra Leone.
The findings, published Thursday in the journal Science, offer new insights into how the outbreak started in West Africa and how fast the virus is mutating.
A international team of researchers sequenced 99 Ebola genomes, with extremely high accuracy, from 78 people diagnosed with Ebola in Sierra Leone in June.
The Ebola genome is incredibly simple. It has just seven genes. By comparison, we humans have about 20,000 genes.
“In general, these viruses are amazing because they are these tiny things that can do a lot of damage,” says Pardis Sabeti, a computational biologist at Harvard University and the lead author of the study.
Hidden inside Ebola’s tiny genome, she says, are clues to how the virus spreads among people — and how to stop it.
“As soon as the outbreak happened and was reported in Guinea,” she says, “two members of my lab flew out and worked to set up the diagnostics to pick it up in Sierra Leone.”
The team helped to find the first Ebola cases in Sierra Leone. They also immediately shipped diagnostic samples from the patients back to the U.S. and started sequencing the viruses’ genomes.
“We had 20 people in my lab working around-the-clock,” Sabeti says.
Their furious pace paid off. After just a week or so, the team had decoded gene sequences from 99 Ebola viruses. The data offered a treasure-trove of information about the outbreak.
Too strong, too late: A person’s immune system eventually gets its act together and mounts a massive attack against Ebola. But in the end, the immune system overreacts and causes huge amounts of collateral damage.
Goats and Soda
How Ebola Kills You: It’s Not The Virus
For starters, the data show that the virus is rapidly accumulating new mutations as it spreads through people. “We’ve found over 250 mutations that are changing in real time as we’re watching,” Sabeti says.
While moving through the human population in West Africa, she says, the virus has been collecting mutations about twice as quickly as it did while circulating among animals in the past decade or so.
“The more time you give a virus to mutate and the more human-to-human transmission you see,” she says, “the more opportunities you give it to fall upon some [mutation] that could make it more easily transmissible or more pathogenic.”
And from The Washington Post:
As the Ebola outbreak worsens — with the death toll spiraling and the World Health Organization warning that 20,000 people could eventually be infected — another West African country has confirmed that the deadly virus has crossed its borders.
Senegal confirmed its first case of Ebola on Friday, according to a statement from Health Minister Awa Marie Coll Seck. The patient, a Guinean national who traveled to Senegal, is in quarantine.
The news brings the number of countries impacted by the outbreak up to five: Sierra Leone, Liberia and Senegal’s neighbor, Guinea, have seen the bulk of the 3,069 reported Ebola infections in the region, according to the WHO. More than half of those infected have died. The virus also spread to Nigeria through a traveling Liberian-American man. A separate outbreak of a different strain of Ebola has been reported in Congo.…
In Liberia, where international health organizations have said the outbreak could be spiraling out of control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden said the situation is far worse than he anticipated.
“It’s even worse than I’d feared,” Frieden told CNN. “Every day this outbreak goes on, it increases the risk for another export to another country.”