Of all the viruses in the world, Ebola is one of the most feared ones. It has managed to kill over 600 people so far in West Africa, and studies show that it has been smoldering there for years. As a matter of fact, researchers claim that people who have been getting sick from it, thought they had a different illness. New studies of blood samples from people suffering from different viral-like illnesses in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea show that the victims might have actually been infected with Ebola.
This news is extremely distressing, and researchers are digging deeper through their cases to determine whether or not the virus had been lurking undetected. One thing to be taken into consideration is the fact that the blood samples used were several years old. This means that they could have been tainted due to heat-treatment (which ensures the safety of researchers). Nevertheless, the results are definitely worth following up. Randal Schoepp, from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, who also took part in the study, believes that more research is needed in this case.
“It has been circulating there for a long time (…) It just hadn’t gotten out of control or the right conditions weren’t there.” he declared on NBC News
Other researchers believe that it is highly unlikely that the virus would appear out of the blue. There must be some sort of explanation for the blood sample results. They believe there is some sort of Ebola carrier in the area, and they suspect bats and other animals. Truth be told, you don’t necessarily have to see an outbreak to understand that a virus is threatening the region. One should also consider the fact that Africa is a place were diseases spread rapidly, and it is easy for a virus like Ebola to smolder.
Until know, Ebola has claimed 613 lives in Sierra Leone, West Africa and Guinea, during an outbreak that started in spring, says the World Health organization. The reason why the Ebola virus is causing so much commotion is because, since it was first diagnosed (in 982), it has reached a mortality rate of over 60%.
Of course, medics and scientists in Africa have bigger problems, like the Lassa virus which infects between 100 and 300 thousand people each year (leading to over 5000 deaths – says the U.S. centers for Disease Control and Prevention). In other words, when people show up at the hospital with fever (if they do show up, because most of them prefer to retreat in the forest than seek medical help), medics automatically suspect Lassa. This is mainly because Lassa and Ebola symptoms are similar (high fever, internal & external bleeding, vomiting etc.), and also because the Ebola virus has never been recorded in West Africa in the past.
Schoepp’s team studies proved that nearly 9% of blood samples studied carried antibodies to Ebola. Of course, this does not mean that all 9% were suffering from Ebola, but it proves that some of the mystery fevers were caused by it.
The best course of action now would be to test fresh blood samples (when people first get sick). This will make it possible for medics to detect the actual virus circulating the body.
“Virus hunting is not as easy as people think.” Schoepp said