West African Ebola Outbreak: Deadly Virus ‘Has Been Circulating in Region Since 2006’

Tuesday, July 15, 2014
By Paul Martin

By Hannah Osborne
July 15, 2014

The Ebola virus has been circulating in West Africa since at least 2006, scientists have confirmed.

Experts from the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) have been working in the region since 2006 looking to develop tests for a different deadly virus, the Lassa fever virus, which affects the internal organs and kills about 5,000 people every year.

Over the years, USAMRIID scientists have started to optimise additional tests for emerging diseases and, when the Ebola outbreak began, they were well-positioned to provide aid.

“We had people on hand who were already evaluating samples and volunteered to start testing right away when the current Ebola outbreak started,” said lead author Randal J Schoepp.

Between 500 and 700 samples are submitted each year to the Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone, where the scientists are based. Of these, between 30% and 40% test positive for Lassa fever.

Researchers were looking to find out what other viruses had been causing serious illnesses in the region.

Of the samples submitted between 2006 and 2008, they found evidence of dengue fever, West Nile, yellow fever, Rift Valley fever, chikungunya, Marburg and Ebola.

Samples that tested positive for Ebola also reacted to the Zaire strain, the most deadly of all the Ebola viruses and the strain responsible for most outbreaks.

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