Scientists have recently discovered that the superspreaders might have, after all, been responsible for causing around two-thirds of the Ebola cases that occurred between 2014 and 2015 in West Africa. Although previously regarded as harmless, it appears that the superspreaders played a bigger role in the Ebola epidemic than we thought.
The superspreaders are those people who were first to contract the disease and, as expected, are in a small number. This new study allowed the scientists understand how they played such an important role in Ebola transmission.
In the study, they looked at data gathered from the communities around Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. The data contained GPS locations of over 200 dead bodies that were later diagnosed with Ebola, the age and sex of the victims, burial time, and the moment when the symptoms appeared. The scientists looked at cases who were not hospitalized and who did not undergo the typical medical processes.
They found that one of the most important factors in superspreading was age. Namely, children younger than 15 and people between 40 and 55 appeared to have been the key transmitters. This is probably one of the most important discovery of the study.
However, they need to continue their studies and establish more precisely how age is related to viruses and to the diseases they cause. Also, this would make interventions much easier. When a disease starts spreading, they will be able to intervene and treat a smaller number of people and maybe have more chances to stop the epidemic. This is easier than having to treat a large number of people.
The symptoms of Ebola include fever, muscle pain, headache, chills, and sometimes even internal bleeding which causes the victim to vomit and cough blood. The 2014 epidemic in West Africa was the largest Ebola outbreak that caused two in five people to die.
Also, other well-known epidemics are known to have been started by superspreaders. They include the MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) epidemic in 2012, the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) pandemic in 2003, the measles outbreak in Finland in 1989, and the typhoid fever epidemic in New York City and the beginning of the 20th century.
The research on Ebola was performed by scientists from Princeton University and can be found in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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