Latest Ebola outbreak may have lay dormant in a former patient for years

Written on 03/14/2021

By Ciarán Mather

Scientists helping those affected by the Ebola outbreak currently affecting the African nation of Guinea now believe that the virus may have originated from a former Ebola patient.

As reported by Science Magazine, genomic analyses by three independent research groups have shown that the Ebola strain causing the new outbreak is reportedly nearly-identical to the notorious strain that was reported 5 to 6 years ago.

This data appears to indicate that the virus might have lay dormant in a survivor of the epidemic, only to resurface recently.

Previously, the longest known period for Ebola to survive in the body was 500 days. 

However, just last month, a study found that about half of more than 800 survivors in Guinea still reported symptoms 2 years after contracting the illness, and one-quarter after 4 years

The current outbreak in Guinea was detected after a 51-year-old nurse who had originally been diagnosed with typhoid and malaria died in late January.

Several people who attended her funeral fell ill, and researchers suspect that a dormant form of Ebola might have caused all of the deaths.

Their theory gained further credibility in early February after they discovered the virus in the blood of the nurse’s husband. 

Dan Bausch, leads the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team, explained that while the nurse was not known to be a survivor herself, she could have been in contact with a survivor privately or through her job, or she might have been infected herself years ago, but showed few symptoms.

The current outbreak has seen 18 people infected, with nine of them succumbing to the virus. 

Between 2013 and 2016, 11,000 people died from Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. 

Ebola was first discovered near the Ebola River in what is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976. 

According to the Centre for Disease Control, symptoms of the virus include: 

  • Fever

  • Aches and pains, such as severe headache, muscle and joint pain, and abdominal (stomach) pain

  • Weakness and fatigue

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms including diarrhoea and vomiting

  • Abdominal (stomach) pain

  • Unexplained bruising, or haemorrhaging/bleeding from the tear ducts and other orifices such as the mouth, nose or rectum.

It is mainly spread via bodily fluids, namely: breast milk, vomit, diarrhoea, sweat and semen.

The World Health Organisations says that the average fatality rate of Ebola is 50 per cent, but noted that case fatality rates have varied from 25 per cent to as high as 90 per cent in past outbreaks.

Although very little is known about the origins of the virus, it is believed that Ebola was originally a virus that originated from a mammal, such as a bat or a chimpanzee, that made the jump-over to humans.