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If the ebola virus were to mutate

by oneamp
Tags: ebola, mutate, virus
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oneamp
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Apr16-14, 09:37 AM
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Someone of unknown academic background mentioned on a news forum that if the ebola virus were to mutate so that it spread easier, like a cold or flu, that it would necessarily lose much of its ferocity, not killing in such high numbers. Is there any fact to this?

And what are the odds that ebola will mutate to proliferate easier? Is it inevitable? If it eventually spreads like a cold or flu, will we all be in a lot of trouble?

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SteamKing
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Apr16-14, 10:34 AM
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IDK about that statement in particular, but if a hypothetical pathogen is so virulent that it kills all of its hosts so quickly before the pathogen can spread, then the pathogen dies once the last host is dead. Over time, if the hosts develop immunity to the pathogen, then the pathogen is unable to spread, unless it can infect a host with compromised immunity to the pathogen. In order for the virulent pathogen to survive in the long term, it must mutate so that infection of a host allows time for the pathogen to propagate and not eliminate all of its potential hosts.
Ryan_m_b
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Apr16-14, 11:06 AM
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It's hard to say without the quote in context but I'd agree with Steamking. For an infectious disease to become a serious problem of the manner you're describing it has to be highly infectious, highly virulent and have an incubation time long enough to allow significant transfer of said disease.

oneamp
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Apr16-14, 11:35 AM
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If the ebola virus were to mutate

Does this help explain why, though the virus has been known to exist for decades, we do not have a vaccine or effective treatment regimen? Because it's not likely going to make a hage impact on the first world? No tin foil hat thinking; I'm just wondering how these things work.
oneamp
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Apr16-14, 01:11 PM
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Another question: I have seen a video of a mass ebola grave, where the dead were buried. How long will these mass graves be contaminated? When someone digs up an ebola grave in the future, will they unleash the virus again?
Ryan_m_b
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Apr16-14, 01:41 PM
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Quote Quote by oneamp View Post
Another question: I have seen a video of a mass ebola grave, where the dead were buried. How long will these mass graves be contaminated? When someone digs up an ebola grave in the future, will they unleash the virus again?
No, IIRC the ebola virus can only survive a matter of days outside a living host a room temperature.
SteamKing
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Apr16-14, 02:04 PM
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Quote Quote by oneamp View Post
Does this help explain why, though the virus has been known to exist for decades, we do not have a vaccine or effective treatment regimen? Because it's not likely going to make a hage impact on the first world? No tin foil hat thinking; I'm just wondering how these things work.
Fortunately, ebola outbreaks have been rare and confined to only certain geographical locations. The disease caused by ebola was only first confirmed in 1976 and no outbreaks have occurred in the US or Europe except from lab accidents where the virus was mis-handled.

Because of the nature of the disease and the area of its confinement, it is difficult to obtain samples of the virus to study to develop a vaccine: You need a highly secure facility just to store the virus. Certainly, if there were periodic outbreaks of ebola in the US and Europe, that would provide tremendous incentive to develop a vaccine, given that a disease like ebola could cause an untold number of deaths were an outbreak to occur in a large city. Given that its appearance is so recent, perhaps the virulence of ebola results from a mutation to a virus which was previously benign.

This is not to minimize the suffering of those who have come down with ebola, but there are many other diseases which do appear frequently in the first world for which vaccines or cures do not exist or which are becoming ineffective due to improper use. Once, before antibiotics, bacterial infections were frequently deadly, and now that antibiotics and antibacterial compounds are used frequently and indiscriminately in everything from animal feed to hand soap, the bacterial infections which we used to treat quickly are becoming so resistant that the number of effective drugs has dwindled, and some serious diseases, like TB, have strains which are resistant to treatment. It would be nice to have unlimited resources to devote to finding cures or vaccines for all infectious diseases, but we don't live in that world.
oneamp
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Apr16-14, 02:11 PM
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Thank you very much for that great answer SteamKing.
KenTucker
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Y, 10:39 PM
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Quote Quote by oneamp View Post
Someone of unknown academic background mentioned on a news forum that if the ebola virus were to mutate so that it spread easier, like a cold or flu, that it would necessarily lose much of its ferocity, not killing in such high numbers. Is there any fact to this?

And what are the odds that ebola will mutate to proliferate easier? Is it inevitable? If it eventually spreads like a cold or flu, will we all be in a lot of trouble?
I didn't see a specific response to your question about possible mutation of Ebola. Coronaviruses that cause colds and influenza viruses are so virulent because they attack cells of the lungs. More specifically, they inhabit the upper portion of the lungs. This makes them exceptionally efficient at spreading from human to human via coughs and sneezes. While some can certainly spread to the bodies other organs, they generally cause their damage in the lungs.

Ebola, on the other hand, spreads principally via exchange of bodily fluids. Blood borne, it spreads quickly through the body's organs causing its grisly symptoms. It is an efficient killer but not efficient in its spread throughout a population.

The other factor that actually hinders the spread of Ebola is its incubation period. While it has a quite lengthy incubation period, up to 25 days, its victims are not contagious during that time. Compare this to influenza which has an incubation period of just 2-7 days. Short, yes, but victims are very contagious while feeling completely fine.

Can Ebola mutate to a more virulent species? Absolutely. In fact, the strain that's causing so much panic in West Africa has never been seen before. As long ago as December of 2013, the WHO and CDC knew it was a new strain.

Does this new strain have different strategies for spreading more efficiently? It would seem so given the record-setting number of cases (1300+ as of today) and the silence since April from the world's prominent health agencies. I would really like to know that the WHO and CDC are exploring the capabilities of this new strain.


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