Scientists are now admitting that the Ebola virus could mutate into an airborne form and spread across the world.
David Sanders, associate professor of biological sciences at Perdue University, is one of those experts. His work on Ebola led to his participation in the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Biological Weapons Proliferation Prevention Program.
He told Newsmax Health:
Ebola does share some of the characteristics of airborne viruses like influenza and we should not disregard the possibility of it evolving into something that could be transmitted in this way.”
Earlier this week, at a Congressional subcommittee, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top White House infectious disease advisor, said it was very unlikely Ebola would mutate in a way that would make it transmittable through the air like flu:
“That’s not something I would put at the very top of the radar screen.”
“I want the facts to be clear. It’s important that we not get the idea that this can’t happen. When people say that it is impossible for this virus to mutate, this is simply not true.
To be airborne it must be present on tiny droplets from a cough or sneeze and must be able to live outside of the body for a certain length of time. This is not how the virus is currently known to spread, but it is evidence that it has some of the necessary components for respiratory transmission,” he said.
He explained that a key factor in the successful mutation of a virus centers on how it enters and exits the body. Sanders led a research team that established the Zaire form of the Ebola virus could enter the mucus-lined cells in the human airway much the same way the flu virus does.
The Zaire form of the virus is the one involved in the current West Africa epidemic, by the way.
Sanders used the flu as an example of how a virus can mutate so that it can infect different species and be transmitted in different ways:
Originally, flu was a virus that lived in the gastrointestinal tract of aquatic birds, like ducks and geese. But it mutated into a disease that spread easily among humans, gaining entry to the human body through airways, which have a mucus lining that is similar to that in the gastrointestinal tract of birds.
The Ebola virus would have to mutate so that it could survive outside the body for a significant length of time, like the flu can, to become a serious threat to the U.S. Sanders explained that the more the virus spreads, the more likely it is to mutate.
“When people have looked at the current outbreak, the virus really hasn’t changed much. However, this research was done when there were 1,500 cases and now it’s up to 4,000 and if it gets to be 100,000 cases, there is more and more of a chance for mutations to occur.
Sanders said that there is no way to predict if or when Ebola will mutate and become a major global threat.
“I can’t calculate you the probability of this happening. I can just tell you that from the way the virus enters the body, this is a possibility and that clearly has to be taken into account.”
Michael T. Osterholm, director for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, echoed Sanders’ sentiments:
“In 2012, a team of Canadian researchers proved that Ebola Zaire, the same virus that is causing the West Africa outbreak, could be transmitted by the respiratory route from pigs to monkeys, both of whose lungs are very similar to those of humans. We must consider that such transmissions could happen between humans, if the virus mutates.”
He pointed out that the virus is mutating constantly while being transmitted from one human to another:
Since we are facing a “hyper-evolution” of the virus he sees as unprecedented, it has already obtained “trillions of throws of the genetic dice,” Osterholm emphasizes.
The virus’s “hyper-evolution” may result in a new airborne form of Ebola, which would swiftly spread across the globe. “Infections could spread quickly to every part of the globe, as the H1N1 influenza virus did in 2009, after its birth in Mexico,” writes the scientist. (source)
Even if Ebola doesn’t mutate, it poses a serious threat to millions of people. In his article “1.2 Million Deaths By Ebola Projected Within Six Months?” Michigan States University econometrics expert Francis Smart predicts that if nothing changes and the virus spreads at its current rates, “as many as 4.7 million people will have been infected and 1.2 million will have already died” in the next six to nine months.
“It is extremely foolish to think that any nation is immune to this disease. So far, in the entire history of Ebola outbreaks up until the present, less than 10,000 people have been infected,” Smart wrote.
“However, if my projections are anywhere close to accurate, then the number of infected people are going to be much higher than has ever occurred previously. This will create many more habitats for which the virus can possible mutate new traits that could increase its transmission rate.”
Smart said the possibility the Ebola virus could go airborne would significantly increase its ability to be transmitted.
Oh, and if that isn’t concerning enough, the State Department has purchased 160,000 Ebola hazmat suits.
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