Ebola virus 'maybe airborne'
By Tim Sandle, Ph.D., Head of Microbiology, Bio Products Laboratory
A Canadian science team have undertaken research to show that the a virulent form of the Ebola virus could mutate into an airborne pathogen. Such a mutation would also be capable of species to species transmission.

Through a series of experiments, the research team, based at the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, led by Dr Gary Kobinger, have shown that a form of the Ebola virus can be transmitted from pigs to monkeys without any direct contact between the animals.

For the experiments, pigs carrying the virus were housed in pens with the monkeys in close proximity but separated by a wire barrier. After eight days, some of the monkeys showed clinical signs typical of Ebola.

This means that the virus infected one animal from another through airborne transfer. Such air transfer is not considered to be over a long distance; instead, droplets of liquid from the hosts nose or mouth can remain suspended in the air for short periods of time. Such droplets could then be absorbed into the airway of another animal or person. This does not mean that Ebola would be spread as widely or in the same way as influenza.

On this basis, the scientists have theorized that airborne transmission may explain how the disease is spreading in certain parts of Africa. Furthermore, the research suggests that wild and domestic pigs may be the a natural host for the virus.

The scientists also consider that the research findings may explain how some pigfarmers in the Philippines have antibodies in their system for the presence of a different version of the infection called Ebola Reston. The farmers had not been involved in slaughtering the pigs and had no known contact with contaminated tissues.

Ebola virus disease (EVD) or Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) is the human disease which may be caused by any of four of the five known Ebola viruses. The name comes from Ebola River in Republic of the Congo, where it was first found. One of the common signs of the disease is bleeding from mucous membranes and puncture sites. It is normally fatal.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that the infection gets into humans through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs and other bodily fluids from a number of species including chimpanzees, gorillas and forest antelope.

Details of the new research has been published in the journal Scientific Reports. The scientists note that further research is required into whether pigs are the hosts of the virus and into the extent that airborne transmission is possible.

About Tim Sandle
Dr. Sandle is a chartered biologist (Society for Biology) and he has over twenty years experience of pharmaceutical microbiology and quality assurance. In addition, Dr. Sandle is an honorary consultant with the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Manchester and serves on several national and international committees relating to pharmaceutical microbiology and cleanroom contamination control (including the ISO cleanroom standards). Dr. Sandle has written over one hundred book chapters, peer reviewed papers and technical articles relating to microbiology. For article feedback, contact Tim at
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