SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2018

Studies seek more effective Ebola diagnosis methods

Scientists seek better Ebola diagnosis methods.
Scientists seek better Ebola diagnosis methods. | Contributed photo

Scientists recently conducted studies to determine how to diagnose hemorrhagic fevers more efficiently before individuals show symptoms.

There are multiple types of hemorrhagic fevers, including Lassa and Marburg. Lassa is currently an epidemic in West Africa. Marburg, a cousin virus to Ebola, sporadically affects Africa, resulting in many deaths.

Scientists from Boston University School of Medicine and the U.S. Army Medical research Institute teamed up on experiments using two models of Lassa and Marburg. They infected a group of host cells with Lassa and Marburg, then watched for gene-expression changes, which indicate recognition of the viruses. The cells showed evidence before they became completely infected.

Because the early symptoms of these viruses are similar to common fevers and flus, health professionals have difficulty distinguishing between a hemorrhagic fever and a minor illness. The earlier physicians can diagnose a patient’s illness, the greater the effectiveness of any treatments.

The more common diagnostic standards only detect a hemorrhagic virus after it fully develops in the blood, increasing the likelihood that others have contracted the virus. Earlier detection would improve intervention, containment and treatment efforts.

Originally published in the BMC Genomics journal, the study illustrates the new standards of diagnosis, which enable physicians to distinguish between the symptoms of a severe illness and a common cold. It is only after the virus builds up within the patient’s blood that doctors easily recognize hemorrhagic fevers.

“The ability to distinguish between different types of infection before the appearance of overt clinical symptoms has important implications for guiding triage and containment during epidemics," Nacho Caballero, a doctoral candidate at Boston University School of Medicine, said. "We hope that our study will help in the development of better diagnostics, especially during the early stages of disease, when treatments have a greater chance of being effective.”

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