Ebola outbreak began at healer's funeral according to study

August 29, 2014 by Keith Brannon
Ebola outbreak began at healer’s funeral according to study
Pictured above is a colorized image of an Ebola virus virion. Credit: Centers for Disease Control microbiologist Frederick A. Murphy.

The current Ebola outbreak sweeping through West Africa likely began at the funeral of a healer in Sierra Leone, according to an extensive genomic study of the virus published in Science.

"The funeral was for an herbalist or traditional medicine practitioner in Koindu, a town in Sierra Leone," says Robert Garry, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Tulane University, who co-authored the study with colleagues from Harvard University, the Broad Institute of MIT and researchers in Sierra Leone. "The herbalist had treated several patients from neighboring Guinea, one or more of whom were apparently infected with Ebola virus."

Scientists were able to sequence 99 Ebola virus genomes using blood samples from 78 patients, painting a record "real-time" snapshot of how the virus rapidly mutated as the outbreak spread. The analysis showed that the West African Ebola strain was distantly related to a strain that has been circulating in central Africa for decades, but likely migrated to the region in 2004. Scientists found 300 mutations that differentiate the viral genomes involved in this outbreak from previous outbreaks, Garry says.

"This is first study to document deep viral genomics during a human outbreak of a hemorrhagic fever like Ebola," Garry says. "We get a close look at not only how the virus is evolving as it passes from one person to the next, but also how the virus changes as it replicates within a person."

The results can help researchers as they work to develop antibody-based treatments using the genetic profile of the virus. They also help improve the accuracy of diagnostic tests.

"The diagnostics used in the field are (PCR) based," Garry says. "PCR depends on finding precise matches between a synthetic primer and the viral genome. If the genome mutates, the PCR assay may not work or not work as well."

More information: "Genomic surveillance elucidates Ebola virus origin and transmission during the 2014 outbreak." Stephen K. Gire, Augustine Goba, Kristian G. Andersen, Rachel S. G. Sealfon, Daniel J. Park, Lansana Kanneh, Simbirie Jalloh, Mambu Momoh, Mohamed Fullah, Gytis Dudas, Shirlee Wohl, Lina M. Moses, Nathan L. Yozwiak, Sarah Winnicki, Christian B. Matranga, Christine M. Malboeuf, James Qu, Adrianne D. Gladden, Stephen F. Schaffner, Xiao Yang, Pan-Pan Jiang, Mahan Nekoui, Andres Colubri, Moinya Ruth Coomber, Mbalu Fonnie, Alex Moigboi, Michael Gbakie, Fatima K. Kamara, Veronica Tucker, Edwin Konuwa, Sidiki Saffa, Josephine Sellu, Abdul Azziz Jalloh, Alice Kovoma, James Koninga, Ibrahim Mustapha, Kandeh Kargbo, Momoh Foday, Mohamed Yillah, Franklyn Kanneh, Willie Robert, James L. B. Massally, Sinéad B. Chapman, James Bochicchio, Cheryl Murphy, Chad Nusbaum, Sarah Young, Bruce W. Birren, Donald S. Grant, John S. Scheiffelin, Eric S. Lander, Christian Happi, Sahr M. Gevao, Andreas Gnirke, Andrew Rambaut, Robert F. Garry, S. Humarr Khan, and Pardis C. Sabeti. Science 1259657. Published online 28 August 2014 [DOI: 10.1126/science.1259657]

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Experimental MERS vaccine shows promise in animal studies

July 28, 2015

A two-step regimen of experimental vaccines against Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) prompted immune responses in mice and rhesus macaques, report National Institutes of Health scientists who designed the vaccines. ...

Can social isolation fuel epidemics?

July 21, 2015

Conventional wisdom has it that the more people stay within their own social groups and avoid others, the less likely it is small disease outbreaks turn into full-blown epidemics. But the conventional wisdom is wrong, according ...

Lack of knowledge on animal disease leaves humans at risk

July 20, 2015

Researchers from the University of Sydney have painted the most detailed picture to date of major infectious diseases shared between wildlife and livestock, and found a huge gap in knowledge about diseases which could spread ...

IBD genetically similar in Europeans and non-Europeans

July 20, 2015

The first genetic study of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to include individuals from diverse populations has shown that the regions of the genome underlying the disease are consistent around the world. This study, conducted ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.