Warning: Ebola could mutate and become airborne


However, other experts said it was unlikely that the disease could become airborne.

‘The chances of Ebola becoming airborne are extremely small,’ said Dr Jeremy Farrar, a director at Wellcome Trust.

‘I am not aware of any viral infection changing its mode of transmission. This is not to say it would be impossible, but it’s important we retain a sense of proportion and not exaggerate the risks for it changing and becoming airborne. There is already enough fear and panic surrounding this epidemic.

‘Of more concern is that the virus could become endemic in Western Africa, so unlike big outbreaks like this we could have smaller numbers of cases but circulating continuously. This is where we need to focus our efforts and attention – on trying to stop this outbreak before it establishes itself in Western African countries.’

Professor David Heymann, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: ‘No-one can predict what will happen with the mutation of the virus, and there is no evidence to suggest that it will become a respiratory virus. Its epidemiology is consistent with transmission via blood, bodily secretions and excretions, which is exactly the same as other past epidemics.

‘Other viruses that transmit in a similar manner by blood, such as Hepatitis B and HIV, have not mutated in this manner. In order for Ebola to change, the virus would have to develop the capacity to attach to receptors in the respiratory system.’

A woman and her two children (right) are helped by doctors at the Monrovia Ebola treatment centre

Meanwhile, at the international summit convened in London today to tackle the epidemic, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), on behalf of 34 NGOs, called for a six-point plan to combat infection rates.

At today’s conference Britain and Sierra Leone are proposing a new type of clinic to help slow the biggest ever Ebola outbreak.

Officials are expected to announce plans to build up to 1,000 makeshift Ebola clinics in Sierra Leone.

The new clinics will offer little, if any, treatment, but they will get sick people out of their homes, away from their families and hopefully slow the infection rate.

Currently only a fraction of Ebola patients are now in treatment centers.

‘If we don’t do anything, we’ll just be watching people die,’ World Health Organization spokeswoman Dr. Margaret Harris said.

Sierra Leone is one of the hardest-hit countries in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which is believed to have killed more than 3,300 people and infected at least twice as many.

Experts say the disease will continue to spread rapidly unless at least 70 percent of people who are infected are isolated and prevented from infecting other people. Dozens of Ebola treatment centers have been promised, but they could take weeks or even months to go up.

Experts are turning to such imperfect solutions because the scale of the Ebola outbreak is overwhelming the traditional response methods tried so far.

‘We need to try different things because of the scale of this outbreak,’ said Brice de la Vingne, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders.

‘We’ve used these kinds of basic tents in past catastrophes but never for Ebola,’ he explained. ‘But right now we’re screaming for more isolation centers so patients don’t infect their communities.’


Thomas Eric Duncan (pictured) this week became the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil

Officials confirmed this week the first patient has been diagnosed with the deadly disease on U.S. soil.

Thomas Eric Duncan flew back into the U.S. on September 20 from Liberia, touching down in Brussels and Washington en route.

It emerged just four days before Mr Duncan boarded a plane bound for Dallas, Texas, he helped carry his landlord’s convulsing daughter to a Liberian clinic to be treated for Ebola.

The woman, named by the New York Times as 19-year-old Marthalene Williams, died the next day, after being turned away from the overcrowded hospital that didn’t have room for her.

The landlord’s son and three neighbors who came in contact with the woman also died soon afterwards.

But Mr Duncan wasn’t showing any symptoms when he arrived at a Monrovia airport on September 19, and therefore was allowed on a flight out of Liberia bound for the U.S.

In Liberia, Mr Duncan worked moving cargo for FedEx, but had recently quit his job when he acquired a visa to visit the U.S. where his son reportedly lives.

He is one of an estimated 13,500 people from the Ebola hot-spot countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia who currently hold visas to visit the U.S. and could possibly spread the outbreak.

Source | DM