Ebola Outbreak Likely Triggered by Survivor

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MONDAY, March 15, 2021 (HealthDay News) — The current Ebola outbreak in Guinea was likely started by a person who survived a previous outbreak, researchers report.

Genetic investigation suggests that the person was infected but survived West Africa’s 2014-16 epidemic, carried the virus for at least five years and then transmitted it via semen to a sex partner, The New York Times reported.

The findings shocked the researchers. Previously, 500 days was the longest the Ebola virus had been known to persist in a survivor.

“It’s a stunner,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University who was not involved in the research, told the Times. “This is an extraordinary phenomenon.”

“We have no idea how often this may be happening,” Schaffner said. “Some studies are underway. As you can imagine, it’s not easy to study hiding viruses in immunologically privileged sites, like the testicles, the eye and, rarely, the central nervous system. Those are not accessible places for easy study.”

The current outbreak in Guinea was declared early this year and has infected at least 18 people and killed nine. The 2014-16 outbreak in West Africa infected more than 28,000 people and killed more than 11,000. Some of the survivors of that epidemic are shunned, and the finding that some survivors may be infectious is likely to worsen that situation, the Times reported.

The new research also means that other outbreaks in the region assumed to have started with transmission from animals may actually have been triggered by survivors with undiagnosed, lingering infections.

Schaffner said that one possible solution may be “to vaccinate much of equatorial Africa” against Ebola even where there is no outbreak. Effective vaccines are available, one made by Merck and another by Johnson & Johnson, but so far they have generally been used only in response to outbreaks, the Times reported.

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