No, Ebola Is Not Mutating Into A ‘Supervirus’

The Ebola virus that is causing the current outbreak in West Africa is not mutating as quickly as earlier reports had suggested, a new study finds. This finding helps allay fears that the virus could change into a more infectious or deadly form, the researchers said.

In the study, published online today (March 26) in the journal Science, researchers compared virus samples from people in Africa who became infected with Ebola up to nine months apart. They found that the viruses’ genetic sequences were almost identical, meaning that the virus had undergone relatively few mutations — or changes in the genetic sequence — over that time period, the researchers said

“We do not see any evidence that the virus is mutating any more rapidly than has been reported in previous outbreaks,” said Thomas Hoenen, a postdoctoral fellow in virology at the National Institutes of Health and one of the researchers on the study. [5 Things You Should Know About Ebola]

The new results are welcome news, experts said. In a 2014 study published in the journal Science, researchers had suggested that the Ebola virus in the West African epidemic was mutating twice as fast as other Ebola virus strains. In that study, researchers compared viral samples that were taken from people who became infected only three months apart, a relatively short time period, Hoenen said.

That finding “was surprising to us, so we wanted to look at a data set that goes over a much longer period of time,” Hoenen told Live Science.

In the new study, the researchers compared viral samples collected from patients who were infected in Guinea in March 2014, Sierra Leone in June 2014 and Mali in November 2014.

The researchers found that the samples from March and November differed by only 20 nucleotides out of 19,000. (Nucleotides —> Read More