Ebola dramatically adapted to infect human tissues with ease in the first few months of the 2014-15 outbreak, research suggests.
Two studies, in the journal Cell, found a mutation increased the virus’ ability to infect human cells fourfold.
Scientists have argued the mutation may have been “pivotal” in the outbreak becoming the largest in recorded history.
There were 28,616 Ebola cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
And 11,310 people died during the outbreak.
Researchers at the University of Nottingham and the University of Massachusetts analysed the genetic code of nearly 2,000 Ebola virus samples.
What they noticed was a change on the surface of the virus that allowed it to lock on to human cells more easily.
Prof Jeremy Luban, University of Massachusetts Medical School, told BBC World Service’s Science in Action: “The mutation makes the virus more infectious.
“It arose early in the outbreak, perhaps three or four months in.”
Prof Jonathan Ball, from the University of Nottingham, said an up to fourfold increase in infectivity was “not trivial”.
He told the BBC News website: “When a virus is introduced into a new environment, a new niche, it will try to adapt to that new environment.
“That just happened to coincide with widescale spread of the virus – this was a mutation that appeared when the virus took off.”
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was not just the biggest of all time, but it was bigger than all other outbreaks combined.
One reason for Ebola’s explosive spread was that the virus managed to get into dense urban cities such as Monrovia in Liberia.
But Prof Luban added: “One possibility is this mutation, which has never been seen before, in some way contributed to the severity of the outbreak and answering that question conclusively is probably something we cannot do.
“But it is hard to imagine the mutation was not relevant.”
The research provided other insights into the changes taking place in the Ebola virus.
As the virus adapted to more readily infected people it became less able to infect its likely natural host species – fruit bats.
And the people infected with the mutant form of the virus were more likely to die than those infected with the original version.
This runs slightly contrary to the prevailing thought that as Ebola spent more time in people it would evolve to become less deadly in order to help it spread.
Dr Ed Wright, from the University of Westminster, commented: “One of these changes occurred around the time when the number of cases started to dramatically increase.
“This gives rise to the possibility that this change could have been pivotal in the virus’ ability to infect humans and ultimately the scale of the outbreak.
Zimbawe’s doctor goes missing after masterminding strike
Fearless Zimbabwe’s minister of health has called on the government to address insecurity lapses that has lead to the disappearance Peter Magombeyi, the head of a doctor’s union, who disappeared on Saturday.
Fears are rising over the fate of Zimbabwe medical doctor Dr Peter Magombeyi after he sent a message to say he had been abducted in that country by unknown persons – apparently for demanding a “living wage”.
An AFP report earlier on Sunday quoted the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctor’s Association (ZHDA) as saying Magombeyi had not been heard from since he sent a WhatsApp message on Saturday night saying he had been “kidnapped by three men”.
Zimbabwe doctors, who earn a miserly equivalent of about R3 000 are on strike to press for better wages, equipment and medicines in state hospitals.
The ZHDA has reportedly accused state security forces of abducting the doctor because of his role in organising work stoppages.
This week some doctors said the death of deposed Robert Mugabe, 95, in a Singapore hospital on 6 September was an indication of how bad health services in Zimbabwe
“Dr Magombeyi’s crime is only to ask for a living wage for his profession. This is a reflection of the troubles born out of refusal to implement Political Reforms.”
The Zimbabwe government led by Emmerson Mnangagwa has not publicly commented on the doctor’s disappearance
Turkey: Group calls for immediate action against Femicide
Emine Dirican, a beautician from Istanbul, tried to be a good wife. But her husband hated that she worked, that she socialized, even that she wanted to leave the house sometimes without him.
She tried to reason with him. He lashed out.
“One time, he tied me — my hands, my legs from the back, like you do to animals,” recalls Dirican, shuddering. “He beat me with a belt and said, ‘You’re going to listen to me, you’re going to obey whatever I say to you.’ “
She left him and moved in with her parents. In January, he showed up, full of remorse and insisting he had changed. She let him in.
In her mother’s kitchen, he grabbed her by the hair, threw her to the floor and pulled out a gun.
“He shot me,” she says. “Then he went back to my mom and he pulled the trigger again, but the gun was stuck. So he hit her head with the back of the gun.”
Her father, who was in another room in the house, heard the gunshots and ran over. Dirican almost bled to death after a bullet ripped through a main artery in one of her legs.
“I was telling my father, ‘Daddy, please, I don’t want to die.’ “
Femicide — killing women because of their gender — is a longstanding issue in Turkey. Nearly 300 women have been killed so far this year, according to the Istanbul-based advocacy group We Will Stop Femicide, which has been tracking gender-related deaths since Turkish authorities stopped doing so in 2009.
Source Npr news
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