As time passes, it continues to shed more light on the roots of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. We already know that factors contributing to the virus' deadly spread included a traveling population, a lack of public health measures, and dangerous burial procedures, or lack thereof. Evidence is now emerging that a second, more fatal, form of the disease appears to have emerged in the midst of the crisis.
Through genomic analyses of infected individuals, Harvard computational biologist Dr. Pardis Sabeti and her team learned that the virus had a quick mutation rate. Noticeable among these mutations was one known as GPA82V, first observed in a Guinean patient in March 2014. The researchers found that this mutation alters membrane glycoprotein function, and that the 194 humans infected with the mutant form of the virus were significantly more likely to die than those infected with the old strain.
Dr. Jeremy Luban and his team at the University of Massachusetts Medical School studied a hybrid HIV, modified with Ebola surface proteins, and found that the mutation did indeed allow the virus to infect human cells at a higher rate than the older strain. Interestingly enough though, this was only the case for primates, as tests in dogs and cats revealed no differences. Another team studied both forms of the virus within a bat species thought to be the virus’ natural host, and found that virulence actually decreased. Given the virus’ newly found potential, some think it is imminent that the virus makes a return.
Here’s a Cell Journal article for anyone interested on the topic: