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Gene studies of Ebola in Sierra Leone show virus is mutating fast

Published on Aug 29, 2014 3:11 AM
 
Workers wash their hands in chlorinated water at the Roberts International Airport near Monrovia on August 27, 2014. Ebola-hit nations met for crisis talks on August 28, 2014 as the death toll topped 1,500 and the World Health Organisation warned that the number of cases could exceed 20,000 before the outbreak is stemmed. Researchers revealed, meanwhile, that genetic studies of some of the earliest Ebola cases in Sierra Leone showed more than 300 genetic changes in the virus as it leapt from person to person, which could blunt the effectiveness of diagnostic tests and experimental treatments now in development. -- PHOTO: AFP 

CHICAGO (REUTERS) - Genetic studies of some of the earliest Ebola cases in Sierra Leone reveal more than 300 genetic changes in the virus as it leapt from person to person, changes that could blunt the effectiveness of diagnostic tests and experimental treatments now in development, researchers said on Thursday.

"We found the virus is doing what viruses do. It's mutating," said Pardis Sabeti of Harvard University and the Broad Institute, who led the massive study of samples from 78 people in Sierra Leone, all of whose infections could be traced to a faith healer whose claims of a cure attracted Ebola patients from Guinea, where the virus first took hold.

The findings, published in Science, suggest the virus is mutating quickly and in ways that could affect current diagnostics and future vaccines and treatments, such as GlaxoSmithKline's Ebola vaccine, which was just fast-tracked to begin clinical trials, or the antibody drug ZMapp, being developed by California biotech Mapp Biopharmaceutical.

The findings come as the World Health Organisation said that the epidemic could infect more than 20,000 people and spread to more countries. A WHO representative could not immediately be reached for comment on the latest genetic study.

 
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