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Scientists Say Ebola’s Transmission Route Unlikely to Have Changed

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  • Scientists Say Ebola’s Transmission Route Unlikely to Have Changed

    Scientists Say Ebola’s Transmission Route Unlikely to Have Changed

    While Ebola Constantly Mutates, It’s Unlikely The Virus Has Become Airborne

    ...While there’s no doubt that the Ebola virus is constantly altering its genetic makeup, those changes don’t seem to add up to anything significant so far. That makes scientists confident that Ebola hasn’t suddenly acquired the ability to be transmitted via air and that it is unlikely to do so.

    Ebola is more-or-less the same as it was in 1976,” when it was discovered, said Ian Jones, professor of virology at the University of Reading in the U.K. “Most viruses, once they’ve established a way of life, stick with it.”

    No human virus is known to have changed its mode of transmission. Viruses like yellow fever that are transmitted by mosquitoes, or HIV that is transmitted by body fluids, continue to be passed on in the same way

    Ebola’s transmission route hasn’t changed either. It is usually the result of close and direct physical contact with a patient’s infected body fluids, especially blood, feces and vomit. While the virus can also be transmitted indirectly—via contaminated surfaces and objectsthat risk is low and it can be lowered further by disinfection procedures. Ebola can survive on dry surfaces, such as doorknobs, for several hours but is easily killed. (edit: not sure that's correct) (Test your Ebola knowledge in a quiz.)

    Viruses that store their genetic information in DNA, such as small pox, typically don’t undergo a large number of mutations. By comparison, RNA-based viruses such as Ebola and HIV are less stable. HIV’s high mutation rate is one reason why it’s so hard to develop a vaccine for it.

    So it wasn’t a big surprise when a study published in the journal Science in August found the 2014 Ebola virus had undergone more than 300 genetic changes compared with the virus that caused earlier outbreaks in the region.

    What did those changes amount to? Is Ebola changing in a way that allows its host to live a few weeks longer, so that it could potentially infect even more people? Is it acquiring properties that could make it airborne?

    The answer to those questions is no. “There’s no evidence that a particular mutation is being selected,” said Dr. Jones. “We don’t see anything happening that’s changing the direction of the virus in one direction or another.”

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