Adding to the growing concern about the Ebola virus, Dr. Peter Jahrling, a leading US scientist says the deadly virus is already changing and as such, there is potential for it to mutate and become more contagious.
Dr. Jahrling is the chief scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases who oversees the viral pathogens section. Throughout his time researching the Ebola virus, he notes that one particular concern stands out, mutations that appear to be far more contagious than before.
As part of his work, Dr. Jahrling and his team ran tests, which revealed a much higher viral load in Liberian patients. In simple terms, there is a greater quantity of the virus in the blood, thereby making those patients more contagious.
One of Dr. Jahrling’s goals is to determine if this new strain is more virulent. To accomplish this, tests not previously available are being used, which seem to show a higher virus load in Ebola patients than ever before. If this proves to be true, the new strain of Ebola is an entirely different bug.
He adds that with an increasing number of people becoming infected, there could be some type of aerosol spread. There is obviously a higher incident rate of infection for people who come in close contact with patients, but the spread cannot be fully explained by providing care and preparing bodies for burial. The detection of a virus load in the blood means there is a greater quantity of the virus, thereby making it easier to be spread but also spread further.
One of Dr. Jahrling’s field teams currently works in Monrovia where they are running tests that show viral loads are increasing fast and high. When asked if the Ebola virus could become airborne, he responded that whenever a virus replicates it will mutate and for that reason, there is the potential for this particular virus to acquire an aerogenic property although this type of change would be considered dramatic.
Dr. Jahrling was also asked about Ebola becoming a pandemic similar to what happened with AIDS. He emphasized two viruses have very different modes of transmission. With AIDS, many people transmitted the disease without having any knowledge of being infected whereas with Ebola, an acute infection occurs, which causes a person to die or they live because of being immune. Also, the Ebola virus is not carried for long periods of time.
In conclusion, Dr. Jahrling stated that while there is a lot of work to be done and changes that need to be made to better protect the public, he is optimistic that the Ebola virus epidemic will burn out.
Because there are numerous introductions of this virus, such as animals to humans, not always human to human, once officials organize better systems specific to control, quarantine, and sanitation, the only way a human would become infected is by being in close physical proximity to potential animals that host the virus such as fruit bats in Africa. However, because there are different strains of Ebola, the virus is naturally more mutable.