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article imageHealth care officials worry about Ebola virus becoming airborne

By Karen Graham     Sep 14, 2014 in Health
The World Health Organization predicted that the Ebola virus could end up infecting 20,000 people before it was brought under control. This assumes that international cooperation will be in place to intervene in stopping the outbreak on the disease.
Experts don't know exactly how long it will take to get the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) under control. With the growing number of health care workers coming down with the disease themselves, and the lack of adequate medical personnel, medical supplies and hospital beds in the affected countries, putting a time limit on bringing the disease under control is ludicrous.
But health officials are becoming increasingly concerned over the virus mutating and becoming airborne. If this were to happen, the world would be thrown into a global health crisis of catastrophic proportions. According to CNN, many of the country's top infectious disease experts are worried that if Ebola were to mutate, someone could spread the virus with nothing more than a cough or a sneeze.
Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota recently talked about the possibility of EVD becoming airborne. "It's the single greatest concern I've ever had in my 40-year public health career, he said. "I can't imagine anything in my career -- and this includes HIV -- that would be more devastating to the world than a respiratory transmissible Ebola virus."
The WHO is predicting that it will take at least six months to get the EVD epidemic under control. During this current outbreak, there have been no documented cases of the disease being transmitted any other way but through direct contact with blood or body fluids of an infected individual.
There are five known strains of Ebola that infect humans. The current outbreak is caused by Ebola Zaire, so named for the Zaire River in what is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The first outbreak of Ebola Zaire was documented in 1976. The disease is thought to be the deadliest of the five strains, with a mortality rate as high as 90 percent.
The Guardian ran a story on Sept. 12, reporting that in 2012, Canadian researchers published a paper in Nature suggesting that the Zaire strain of Ebola was transmitted from six-week old pigs to cynomolgus monkeys without direct contact. The scientists came to the conclusion the Zaire virus was airborne in this particular case.
The scientists were unable to document with certainty the actual mode of transmission of the Ebola virus. They were unsure if the virus was spread by water-particles in the air, or if droplets had fallen to the floor and been swept into the monkey cages accidentally. Regardless of the two suggested modes of transmission, the scientists concluded the virus had been transmitted to the monkeys by other than direct contact. All the monkeys were euthanized and then examined.
Dr. Thomas Kenyon, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said recently that the Ebola virus "is spiralling out of control." Kenyon went on to say, "Guinea did show that with action, they brought it partially under control. But unfortunately it is back on the increase now. It’s not under control anymore." Kenyon also warned that the longer the virus is out of control, the greater the chance of it becoming airborne.
The Ebola virus is an RNA (Ribonucleic acid) virus. This is important because every time it copies itself, it will make one or two mutations. In itself, this usually amounts to nothing. But there ps always the rare possibility that the virus could mutate in such a way that it changes how it behaves in the human body.
Dr. James Le Duc, the director of the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas says the biggest problem with this Ebola epidemic is that nobody has been keeping track of any mutations in the virus, so scientists don't know what it has become. One group of scientists did document how the Ebola virus changed over a short period of time in its transmission in one area of Sierra Leone early in the current outbreak. They found 300 genetic changes in the virus.
More about Ebola virus, Mutations, Airborne, RNA virus, Genetic changes
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