Rapidly Mutating Ebola Renders Diagnostic Tests Inaccurate – AKA: You May Have a New Strain of Ebola and Test Negative

An international team of scientists — some of whom succumbed to the virus during the course of their research — has sequenced 99 Ebola virus genomes from 78 patients in Sierra Leone, creating a valuable trove of genetic data for scientists and health care workers struggling to bring the growing outbreak under control.

“We were able to sequence and analyze our samples with about a 10-day turnaround. This is unprecedented, as earlier studies have usually taken many months with much smaller datasets,” says Daniel J. Park, a co-author and computational biologist at the Broad Institute, in an email interview with Mashable.

The research, which used an advanced genetic analysis technique known as deep sequencing, reveals that the disease is rapidly accumulating mutations as it spreads.

The team found 395 genetic changes, including 341 that make this outbreak distinct from the viral genomes tied to previous Ebola outbreaks, and 50 that are unique to the West African outbreak more broadly.

Of particular interest are mutations that alter protein sequences, since they could potentially change the accuracy of diagnostic tests for the virus as well as vaccines and therapies. 

It is unclear if these mutations are related to the severity of the current outbreak, but further genetic analysis could determine this.


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.”

Sabeti says she doesn’t know if that’s happening yet. But the rapid change in the virus’ genome could weaken the tools researchers have to detect Ebola or, potentially, to treat patients.

Diagnostic tests, experimental vaccines and drugs for Ebola — like the one recently used to treat two American patients — are all based on the gene sequences of the virus, Sabeti says. “If the virus is mutating away from the known sequence, that could be important to how these things work.”



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CDC Director Frieden: Risk is Increasing
Tom Frieden’s Ebola Assessment: The Risk Is Increasing

…Frieden says there’s now a vicious cycle around Ebola in Sierra Leone and Liberia, which is amplifying the spread of the disease. “More cases are leading to less adequate management of each case, which is leading to more cases,” he says. “That cycle has got to be broken for us to stop this.”

The best hope lies in a new $489 million plan proposed by the World Health Organization, with the goal of stopping Ebola transmission within nine months. The ambitious plan would deploy hundreds of international experts and thousands of local medical staff. But first, Frieden stresses, the money has to be raised.

Meanwhile, the bad news is mounting. “The number of cases is spiraling upward,” he says. “There’s an urgent need to get patients into isolation and start to get better control of the disease.”

“This is a threat not just to West Africa and to Africa, this is a threat to the world,” Frieden says, emphasizing the need to fund WHO’s effort. Every day the outbreak continues “increases the risk of spread to other countries.”

West African health departments don’t have the staff, training or equipment to control this disease on their own, Frieden says. That means the international community must pick up the pace of its response to the crisis.

“Literally every day that we don’t make more progress controlling the outbreak,” Frieden says, “is another day that the outbreak will not just continue — but grow much larger.”



New Strain in DR Congo:

The Health Minister Felix Kabange, announced Thursday, Aug. 28 that seven new cases of Ebola have been confirmed by laboratory tests. Bringing to thirteen the number of people affected by the virus in the area Djera people in northern Ecuador, where the epidemic was declared. 


US Expecting THOUSANDS Of College Students From West AfricaTo Attend School in US….”MAY” BE SUBJECT TO HEALTH CHECKS

College students from West Africa may be subject to extra health checks when they arrive to study in the United States as administrators try to insulate their campuses from the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

With the virus continuing to kill in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, the expected arrival of thousands of students from those countries has U.S. authorities on alert but cautioning against alarm.

“I can see why there would be concern; there’s no vaccine for it,” said Fatima Nor, an 18-year-old freshman at the University at Buffalo, where about 25 students from Nigeria are enrolled for fall. But she said knowing that the virus is transmitted strictly through direct contact with bodily fluids of sick people, and not by sitting next to someone in class, should be enough to calm nerves.


CDC Changes Criteria for Ebola Transmission; admits “being within 3 feet” or “in same room” can cause infection

THIS WEEK the CDC changed their information about how Ebola can spread; they now admit “being within 3 feet” of an infected person or “being in the same room” with an infected person can allow the virus to infect someone else! They also admit a person who is infected, but not yet showing symptoms, is contagious!




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