Biodefense Research Guards Against Virus More Deadly, Untreatable Than Ebola

If simian hemorrhagic fever virus 'jumps' species, the fallout could be catastrophic.

Doctors Without Borders staff treat a patient suspected to be suffering from Ebola in Kampungu, Congo in September 2007.
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The way potentially deadly viruses such as SHFV or Ebola are transmitted is one of the most closely watched areas of infectious disease research on the planet. And the science is constantly evolving.

For instance, researchers reported Nov. 16 in the journal Scientific Reports that they'd demonstrated the Ebola virus could be transmitted from pigs to monkeys without any direct contact — raising the specter that Ebola could somehow mutate into an airborne virus.

Because Ebola has proven to be fatal in several species of simian primates, including humans, researchers have searched for clues about both its origins and possible mutations. Previous research has identified fruit bats as a natural reservoir for the Ebola virus, but researchers are unsure about the involvement of other species with Ebola.

The first swine to human connection involving Ebola was detected in 2009. The new research announced recently in Scientific Reports is the first report of experimental inter-species transmission of the Ebola virus without direct contact.

Because it is a close cousin to Ebola, biodefense researchers are also looking at SHFV. Both Chinese and U.S. researchers assume, for now, that it might be benign and a way to study the Ebola virus. And if it jumps to the human species — just as SIV, SV-40 and Ebola did — then the human species is nearly defenseless against it. But if it doesn't — or can't — jump from primates to us, then it just as equally could hold the key to a defense against the quite deadly Ebola virus.

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