Ebola outbreak 2018: does Ebola mutate easily?

Ebola is making a comeback in the Democratic Republic of Congo, albeit a small one. Will the Ebola outbreak 2018 continue to spread or will a new vaccine prevent more deaths? Scientists believe the likelihood of Ebola mutating into a deadlier virus is possible but unlikely. These are the things you need to know about the Ebola virus.

What is Ebola?

Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) was discovered in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was named after the Ebola River where it was found. EVD is rare, deadly, and four out of the five Ebola virus species can infect humans.

We don’t know exactly how the virus originated, but scientists believe bats to be the most likely source. The virus jumps the barrier from animal to human infrequently, but this leads to subsequent outbreaks.

Ebola spreads through bodily fluids, and thus can be sexually transmitted.

What are the symptoms of Ebola?

Ebola is an immune system menace. It attacks the organs, reduces the number of blood-clotting cells in an infected person’s body, and results in severe bleeding.

If infected, a personal may experience the following symptoms:

  • Aches and pains
  • Fever
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hemorrhage

Nearly half of those infected with the virus will not survive. An infected person may experience symptoms in only a couple of days, or up to three weeks. Usually symptoms will appear after at least a week has elapsed. When it first appears the virus is often misdiagnosed as influenza or malaria.

Those who survive will carry antibodies detectable for up to ten years from the date of recovery.

When did the new outbreak begin?

As far as we know, the current Ebola outbreak began in early 2018 somewhere in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We don’t know exactly when.

How many people have been killed?

At least 45 people have been infected with the virus. 25 deaths are under investigation.

The 2014 outbreak led to the deaths of 11,000 people. It was especially serious because world leaders were so slow to respond appropriately. Later, officials admitted that the 2014 virus was more virulent than previous outbreaks. Most of those who were worried about the 2014 Ebola outbreak had already concluded as much, but the World Health Organization (WHO) denied it at the time.

Is the new Ebola outbreak serious?

Any outbreak is a serious health concern and should be treated as such. Currently the WHO does not consider the 2018 Ebola outbreak to be a global emergency. World leaders have mobilized quickly to produce and ship an experimental vaccine to affected regions.

Why is Ebola so dangerous?

Is there reason to worry? Maybe. An April 2015 report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that Ebola is not likely to mutate into an airborne pathogen. Unfortunately the same report also said that scientists monitoring Ebola at the time had no reason to believe the virus was mutating to spread more easily or become more contagious.

We know that was a blatant lie.

Watch what the virus does, but don’t listen to what the CDC or WHO say. They work to prevent panic as they try to contain the spread of a pathogen. Thankfully right now it doesn’t look like the 2018 Ebola outbreak will become more serious.

Viruses mutate over time. This is one of the reasons that scientists work to create a new flu vaccine each year. Just like influenza, Ebola evolves and mutates randomly. Most of the mutations won’t affect how the virus is transmitted or how virulent it is. Once in a great while, though, a mutation will help the virus spread to become more deadly.

Could Ebola mutate to become airborne? The scenario is unlikely, but that’s the concern.

A 2012 Canadian study showed that pigs infected with Ebola could infect caged monkeys without direct physical contact. It isn’t so far-fetched that Ebola might mutate to make the jump from animal-to-human or human-to-human more easily in the future. The 2014 Ebola outbreak should serve as a reminder that things can change.

What other viruses could mutate to become more deadly?

One of the reasons scientists are so skeptical that Ebola will mutate into an airborne virus is probability. Is it possible? Yes. Is it likely? No. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) could mutate to become airborne too. HIV has infected orders of magnitude more people than Ebola, but it still hasn’t made such a dangerous mutation. If it did, the world would be in big trouble.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a favorite of those preaching the end of the world. If there were ever a real zombie outbreak, it would be caused by CWD. The prion disease affects deer, reindeer, elk, and moose in different parts of the world. It takes up to a year before the animals show symptoms, which include weight loss, salivation, teeth grinding, excessive thirst, drooping head and ears, and listlessness.

So far there’s no evidence that CWD will jump to humans. Similar diseases have made the jump, so it’s possible.

The most likely virus to mutate into a deadlier version is influenza, and the world is overdue for such a pandemic. The last occurred a century ago. The 1918 outbreak infected a third of the world’s population and killed up to 100 million people. Today the flu kills on average of a half million people annually.

Keep in mind the world population has grown by billions over the last hundred years. The death toll today would be unthinkable.

To read more about viruses that could mutate to result in a global pandemic, go here.

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About Author

Jeff is a self-proclaimed pragmatic futurist; that is, he has high hopes for absurd life-altering technologies which sound too good to be true, and probably are. Although he writes on a variety of subjects, his real passion is for technological innovation and the people who make it happen. By day, he enjoys fuzzy bunnies, kittens, puppies, roller coasters and a sardonic written word or two. By night, he's busy running MMR, replaying a random Final Fantasy game, or pretending to be Batman. He currently resides in Upstate NY.