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UNMC researchers help identify newest Ebola outbreak

Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo affected
Posted at 12:35 PM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 13:35:09-04

OMAHA, Neb. — The University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) was a leader when it came to treating Ebola patients back in 2014. Since then, they've continued their efforts with the help of African counterparts and have now helped identify the newest Ebola outbreaks in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While simultaneously dealing with COVID-19, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea are dealing with Ebola outbreaks. Outbreaks have continuously affected West Africa since 2018.

When UNMC's team looked at the genetic sequencing of the patient reported to have Ebola in Guinea, researchers were shocked.

"Those substitutions or mutations that link to that outbreak tell us this is the more likely a scenario that this is a continuation of the 2013 to 2016 outbreak," said UNMC assistant professor in the College of Public Health Michael Wiley.

This means that the patient has been harboring the virus for as long as five years. Previously, the longest the virus had been known to persist was 500 days.

UNMC researchers said they would not have been able to make these groundbreaking findings without the help of the researchers and scientists in Africa.

"We're a small piece of this puzzle. I mean really, our African counterparts are doing all the hard work, Wiley said.

Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour acknowledged the Ebola outbreak in West Africa at Wednesday's Board of Health meeting.

"So now, all the travelers that are coming in from those countries, we are being notified about them," said Dr. Pour.

She said the county is currently monitoring two travelers for Ebola per protocol, but they are not showing any symptoms.

The researchers said an Ebola outbreak on top of a COVID-19 outbreak in the United States isn't likely. The two viruses are very different in nature and Ebola is being properly contained.

“It’s a small number of cases. The Congo is an enormous country and the cases are in a very small area," UNMC instructor Catherine Pratt said.

Ebola vaccines have been shipped out to affected countries and the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund has allocated $15 million to support pandemic response.