The UN’s Ebola chief, Anthony Branbury, has warned that the Ebola virus could mutate and go airborne, which would make the epidemic much harder to control.
“The longer it moves around in human hosts in the virulent melting pot that is West Africa, the more chances increase that it could mutate,” Branbury told the Telegraph. “It is a nightmare scenario [that it could become airborne], and unlikely, but it can’t be ruled out.”
The comments were made before the first patient was diagnosed with Ebola on US soil.
The Ebola virus is spread through body fluids, which is why isolating patients is the most effective way to contain it. The fear that Ebola could change its method of transmission and spread through the air has been raised by infectious disease experts before. However, researchers are careful to note that while physically possible, such a mutation is highly unlikely.
Reacting to earlier panic that Ebola could go airborne, Vanderbilt University infectious diseases expert William Schaffner told Scientific American: “We have so many problems with Ebola, let’s not make another one that, of course, is theoretically possible but is pretty way down on the list of likely issues. Everything that is happening now can easily be comprehensively explained by person-to-person spread via body contact. We don’t have to invoke anything else.”
The current Ebola epidemic is the largest in history. According to the latest figures from the Centres for Disease Control, the virus has infected more than 7,000 people and killed 3,300.
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