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New Study Provides Clues on How Ebola Spreads While Outbreak in DRC Remains Under Control

JUN 12, 2017 | CONTAGION EDITORIAL STAFF

Researchers from Tulane University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center may have found the answer to why the Ebola virus spread so rapidly during the outbreak of 2014-2015. It seems a small protein in the virus may be to blame.

According to their research, recently published in the Journal of Virology, the protein, known as a viroporin, is “damaging host cells by making the membranes more permeable.” The researchers have identified this viroporin to be the “delta peptide,” and this compound is “produced in large amounts in Ebola virus-infected patients,” according to Tulane’s press release on the research.

William Wimley, George A. Adrouny Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Tulane University School of Medicine, and a researcher on the study is quoted in the press release as stating, “Our leading hypothesis is that the delta peptide affects the gastrointestinal tract by damaging cells after its release from infected cells. This effect may be a major contributor to the severe GI illness of patients with the Ebola virus.”

The next step, say the researchers, “is to begin developing therapies that target the delta peptide.”

The latest situation report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on June 8, 2017 indicated that no new cases of Ebola virus infections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been reported or suspected since the last confirmed case on May 17, 2017. The total number of confirmed cases is 5 and there are currently 3 probable cases. A total of 4 of these individuals have died. According to the situation report, “the confirmed and probable cases were reported from Nambwa (four confirmed and two probable), Ngayi (one probable) and Mabongo (one confirmed) in Likati Health Zone.” A total of 13 community alerts have been reported and are being investigated as a result of active case search and ongoing monitoring efforts. To date, none of these case searches “fulfilled the criteria to be a suspect case.”
 
Current models of the progression show that “83% of simulated scenarios predict no further cases in the next 30 days.” WHO has since reassessed the risk of the spread of the virus and updated the national risk level to moderate, “due to the fact that a rapid response team was deployed, field investigation identified cases and contacts and all contacts completed their 21-day monitoring period.” The global and regional risk levels remain low “as no cases have been reported outside of Likati health zone and the area is remote with limited access and transport to/from the affected area.”
 
Although the rVSV ZEBOV experimental/investigational vaccine has not yet been deployed, “the protocol for a possible ring vaccination has been formally approved by the national regulatory authority and Ethics Review Board of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Vaccine.”
 
Education on Ebola continues to be distributed to communities in and around the outbreak in the form of in-person house visits and local radio broadcasts. In addition, 9 countries “have instituted entry screening at airports and ports of entry (Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe), and one country has issued travel advisories to avoid unnecessary travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Rwanda). Two countries (Kenya and Rwanda) implemented information checking on arrival for passengers with travel history from and through the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These measures are within the prerogative of the States Parties and do not qualify as additional health measures that significantly interfere with international traffic under Article 43 of the IHR (2005).”
 
According to WHO, “the unusually high mortality in the local pig population remains under investigation.”

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