NAN – Researchers at Harvard University, U.S.A. on Friday linked the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease in Sierra Leone to the funeral of one of its traditional healers.
The traditional healer was alleged to have been treating Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) patients from neighbouring Guinea before he contacted the disease and later died.
According to livescience. com, the first case of Ebola was discovered in May in Sierra Leone, after the death of the healer.
The Minister of Health in Sierra Leone released an official statement that linked the death of the healer to Ebola, after investigations by his ministry were concluded.
“Investigators found 13 additional cases of Ebola, all in women who attended the burial,” the minister said.
The researchers studied the viruses isolated from the blood of these patients, as well as subsequent Ebola patients, to identify the genetic characteristics of the Ebola virus responsible for the outbreak.
“Understanding how a virus is changing is critical knowledge to the development of diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics, as they usually get specific parts of the viral genome that might change both between and within outbreaks, said the researchers.
The findings suggest that the virus was brought to the region within past decades, likely by an infected bat traveling from Central Africa.
Earlier work suggested that the virus was circulating in animals in West Africa for several decades without having been detected.
“The virus seemed to have made a single jump from an animal to a person, from there continued its journey through human-to-human transmission.
“This finding can guide decisions on whether to focus on human -to -human spread of the virus , or on minimizing contact with animals, for example by banning the consumption of bush meat,” the researchers said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that over 3,069 persons have been suspected and confirmed as being infected by the virus, with 1552 deaths globally.
There are no vaccines to prevent infection with Ebola virus or drugs to cure the disease.
An experimental treatment based on antibiotics, called ZMapp has shown promise in monkeys but it is unclear whether the drug is effective in treating people.