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Belgian researchers help to map genetic evolution of Ebola

18:40 18/06/2015

The Ebola virus in West Africa is evolving more slowly than expected, a development that bodes well for the effect of a new vaccine that will soon be used. That is the conclusion of an international study published in the scientific magazine Nature. Five Belgian scientists – from the University of Leuven, the Institute for Tropical Medicine and the University of Antwerp – participated in the study.

Over the last 18 months, West Africa has been suffering from the worst epidemic of the Ebola virus ever. In Guinea, Sierra Leona and Liberia, 27,000 people were found to be infected. About 11,000 have died so far from the disease.

Scientists believe that the epidemic started when a bat transferred the virus to a Guinean boy. The scientists have now mapped the further spread of the virus. They analysed 179 blood samples from the thousands collected from patients in the European Mobile Laboratory in Guinea, recording data related to the spread of the virus between March 2014 and January 2015.

The study shows that the virus changes genetically, but this evolution happens more slowly than expected, which is crucial information for research on Ebola vaccines. If the virus evolved very quickly, the vaccines would possibly no longer be effective once available.

The study also confirmed the bat hypothesis and demonstrated that Ebola probably entered Sierra Leone in March or April of 2014. By combining the new information with epidemiological info, the researchers think they can examine the efficiency of the precautionary measures taken in the examined period.


Photo: The European Mobile Laboratory in Guinea


Written by Andy Furniere