In the early period of the Ebola outbreak that struck West Africa, research suggested that the mutation rate of the virus was twice as fast as those of previous Ebola outbreaks.
Findings of a new research, however, provide evidence that the current outbreak has a mutation rate that is only slightly higher compared with previous outbreaks reassuring health experts worldwide.
"The results are good news for the scientists working to develop long-term solutions for Ebola, such as vaccines and treatments, as it means these... should still work against the mutated strains of the virus," said study researcher Miles Carroll, from Public Health England (PHE).
For the study which was published in the journal Nature on June 18, the researchers looked at data on the Ebola virus that cover almost a year. Carroll and colleagues conducted an analysis on 179 patient samples taken by the European Mobile Laboratory, which was deployed in Ebola-struck Guinea, to know how the virus mutated and spread.
Their analysis revealed that the hemorrhagic disease was introduced into the population of Guinea in 2013 from a single source, which supported scientists' theory that the virus was first transmitted from a bat to a young boy. They also found how the virus spread into Sierra Leone between April and early May last year.
Based on their findings, the researchers believe that one of the crucial factors that dictate whether or not Ebola kills somebody is the genetic makeup of the host rather than mutations in the virus itself. Carroll said that for their next study, they will look into this theory which could potentially lead to improved treatment options.
Scientists are still developing vaccines and treatments for Ebola and the findings of the study is considered good news because the long term solutions for the hemorrhagic disease that these people are working on could still work against the mutated strains of the deadly virus.
The disease has so far killed over 11,000 individuals in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in the largest Ebola outbreak to date which began over a year ago. Although new diagnoses have sharply declined in the past few months, the outbreak is not yet over.
The declining number of new infections though also posed challenges to trials that were designed to test potentials vaccines and treatments for the disease. Rehydrating patients and replacing their critical elements are currently considered as the best ways to improve their chances of surviving from the deadly disease.
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