Five co-authors of the latest study on Ebola were killed by the virus before their research was published, highlighting the huge risks undertaken by those working to combat its spread.
The study, published on Thursday, discovered the virus has mutated many times during the outbreak in West Africa, making establishing a treatment more difficult.
Mbalu Fonnie, Alex Moigboi, Alice Kovoma, Mohamed Fullah and Sheik Umar Khan worked with lead researchers atHarvard University to examine the current outbreak.
Science Mag said all five were experienced members of the Kenema Government Hospital’s Lassa fever team. Lassa fever infections have similar symptoms to Ebola.
Their work sequenced the virus genomes from 78 patients and traced the outbreak in Sierra Leone to a funeral of a healer, which a pregnant Kenema Government Hospital Ebola patient and other women who were also infected had attended.
Two months before his death, Khan had described the dangers of treating people with the disease, telling Reuters he feared for his life.
As he examined blood samples of Ebola, he said, “I am afraid for my life, I must say, because I cherish my life. Health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first port of call for somebody who is sickened by disease. Even with the full protective clothing you put on, you are at risk.”
More than half of the 3,069 people infected by Ebola have died from the disease, which has spread across Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and now Senegal.
The World Health Organisation has warned the current outbreak could infect up to 20,000 people before it ends.