Family members clean the grave of their loved one Wednesday, a suspected Ebola victim in 2015 at the Disco Hill safe burial site in Margibi County, Liberia. File Photo by Ahmed Jallanzo/EPA-EFE
March 13 (UPI) -- A survivor of the 2014-16 Ebola outbreak likely started new outbreak in Guinea, a new report shows.
The survivor, harboring the virus from the earlier outbreak, likely transmitted the Ebola virus through semen to a sex partner, according to researchers. Previously, the longest a survivor was known to harbor the virus was 500 days.
Research was based on genetic sequencing of virus samples from the current outbreak, a report published Friday at virological.org showed.
"It's a stunner," Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious disease expert who was not involved in the research, told the The New York Times. "This is an extraordinary phenomenon."
Ebola virus disease is rare and often deadly, with fever, abdominal pain, and unexplained hemorrhaging, bleeding or bruising being among the symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and since then has emerged periodically, infecting people in several African countries.
Scientists believe the virus is animal-borne with bats or non-human primates being the most likely source, which also made the latest discovery surprising.
A genetic analysis of four viruses from people infected in the current Guinea outbreak were close to viruses that infected people in 2014, according to the research published Friday. The lack of mutations suggested that the new outbreak did not emerge from a bat or non-human primate, but was instead carried by a survivor of the 2014-16 West Africa Ebola outbreak.
"With this news, I was really, really shocked," Angela Rasmussen, a virologist with Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. told ScienceNews.
Health authorities in Guinea declared the new Ebola outbreak there last month after three people died.
The 2014-16 outbreak sickened 28,652 people, including 11,325 people who died worldwide from the disease, with more than 11,000 of the cases in Guinea, and neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the CDC.
The DRC confirmed a new case of Ebola the same month authorities declared the separate outbreak in Guinea, and some eight months after the the DRC's last outbreak of the disease was declared over.
A 2018 outbreak in the DRC killed 2,280 people over nearly two years, ending in June 2020.
As of March 6, 29 cases and 13 deaths have been reported in Guinea and the DRC from the new outbreak, according to Africa CDC.
Late last month, the U.S. government implemented travel restrictions to prevent the spread of Ebola virus by travelers from Guinea.