Monday, October 20, 2014

Research Highlights: Evidence Suggests That Recent Outbreak of Ebola Virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo is Independent From West African Epidemic

Evidence Suggests That Recent Outbreak of Ebola Virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo is Independent From West African Epidemic

As international panic regarding the recent West African Ebola virus outbreak spreads, containment of the disease has become increasingly important. On August 24th, the World Health Organization confirmed yet another outbreak of Ebola in a city in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a country quite distant from the Western African nations where this year’s Ebola epidemic originated. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has investigated whether the recent DRC outbreak is the result of spillover from West Africa or if it is a new and independent outbreak. Researchers then further investigated the nature of the DRC outbreak (e.g. its rate of transmission, geographic distribution, etc.) compared to other African Ebola variants.
Researchers collected blood samples from eight patients in the DRC outbreak region who were showing symptoms of Ebola. The participants gave their informed consent for this procedure. Samples were sent to the Institut National de Recherche Biom├ędicale in Kinshasa as well as the WHO reference center for viral hemorrhagic fever in order to analyze the virus via real-time PCR. Results showed that Ebola species from the recent DRC outbreak is 99.2% related to Ebola from a 1995 outbreak in a nearby region of the country. Researchers have thus concluded that there is no epidemiological link between the DRC outbreak and the current West African outbreak; evidence strong suggests that the two outbreaks are distinct and independent. Fortunately, this finding has led researchers to believe that the current DRC outbreak will run a similar course to past DRC Ebola outbreaks, which have typically had lower rates of spillover into neighboring nations and less aggressive transmission rates compared the current Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Past incidences of Ebola outbreak in the DRC have generally been brought under control within a few months, so researchers expect the current DRC outbreak to be much more easily contained than the West African epidemic.
This study raises questions about how best to control Ebola in West Africa and why the risk of widespread transmission is so much lower in the DRC and other countries in Equatorial Africa. Researchers noted that differences in population density, cultural norms, and response to epidemics between these two regions of Africa could account for some of the differences in Ebola risk. However, these potential explanations must be tested in future studies before researchers can propose a better course of action for controlling Ebola in West African nations. 

NEJM [Internet]. October 14, 2014 [cited October 20, 2014]; Available from:
doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1411099

Caroline Russell-Troutman is the 2014-2015 Research Highlights Editor

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