NOV 16, 2016 2:43 PM PST

More Cases of Symptomless Ebola Discovered in West Africa

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

In 2014 and 2015, the Ebola outbreak ravaged West Africa, killed over 11,000 people, and caused a huge international health crisis. But it was only recently that the World Health Organization officially declared the end of the outbreak.
 
And even though we can all breathe a sigh of relief, a new study just reported new cases of asymptomatic Ebola patients. The findings suggest that we can’t be lulled into a false sense of control, as there is much left to understand about the virus, and prevention and treatment strategies.
 


The Ebola virus causes severe hemorrhagic fevers, which can often be fatal. In fact, the virus kills up to 90 percent of people who catch it. The natural reservoir for Ebola is still unknown, but humans can get the virus through direct contact with infected blood or body fluids. People infected with Ebola start showing signs and symptoms from 2 to 21 days after exposure. In the beginning stages, symptoms can be non-specific, including fever, muscle pain, headache, and vomiting. Symptoms of hemorrhagic syndrome occur in the advanced stages of infection. There are yet no licensed vaccines or therapies against this virus.
 
While the symptoms described above are very typical of Ebola patients, researchers surveying an “Ebola hotspot” in West Africa found 14 Ebola patients who had no diagnostic signs of being infected.
 
Blood tests for these 14 patients revealed a slew of antibodies against the Ebola virus, indicating they were infected with the pathogen. However, the unique group of individuals were seemingly unaffected physically by the infection. Of the 14 individuals, 12 reportedly had no symptoms at all, while 2 people reported prolonged fevers.
 
Because symptoms of Ebola are non-specific to begin with, it is not hard to imagine that these 14 people would have even known that they were infected with the deadly virus. These silent carriers of the disease, then, could have unknowingly spread the virus. And because they don’t themselves display the symptoms, it would be difficult for health officials to detect the source of the infection. In this way, the silent carriers could undermine efforts to contain the outbreak.




 

The study was "really one of the first to study the rate of minimally asymptomatic cases of Ebola in a 'hot zone,'" said Michele Barry, professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, and a co-author of the new paper.
 
 Writing in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, the authors were careful to also point out that 14 Ebola patients could have more symptomatic than they reported. That is, because Ebola is associated with a negative cultural stigma, people may be more apt to downplay their symptoms in an effort to dissociate themselves from the disease.  Thus, it is possible that the silent carriers may not be so silent after all.
 
However, this is not the first study to report Ebola patients who exhibit no classic symptoms of the infection. In any case, we should probably err on the side of caution, and pursue Ebola research even more aggressively after these findings. Perhaps then we can discover natural defenses in these people that can be translated into a cure for Ebola.

Additional sources: Live Science

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
JUL 07, 2019
Health & Medicine
JUL 07, 2019
Increasing Incidence of Tick-Borne Illnesses in Pennsylvania
Babesiosis is a vector-borne disease in which the parasite, Babesia, is transmitted through the bite of a tick, or rarely, a blood transfusion.  ...
JUL 16, 2019
Health & Medicine
JUL 16, 2019
Rare Bone Marrow Manifestation in Sarcoidosis
Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease with the hallmark diagnostic feature being non-caseating granulomas--clumps of immune cells including macr...
SEP 26, 2019
Cannabis Sciences
SEP 26, 2019
Arthritis Foundation Gives Cautious Thumbs Up for CBD Use
After a national survey in July confirmed that the vast majority of arthritis patients were either interested in using CBD for symptom relief or already us...
OCT 14, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
OCT 14, 2019
Researchers Develop a Score to Quantify the Risk of Epilepsy
It usually takes two seizures before a person can be diagnosed with epilepsy. New work can help change that....
DEC 28, 2019
Microbiology
DEC 28, 2019
A DNA Star That Can Detect Dengue Virus
Like origami paper, DNA molecules can be folded and arranged into complex three-dimensional structures....
JAN 06, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 06, 2020
Some Genetic Sequencing Tests Are Coming Up Short
If it's suspected that a person has a genetic disease, doctors might send the patient's DNA for sequencing. But some sequencing tests may not be checking thoroughly....
Loading Comments...