A team of researchers at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana found that the Ebola virus survives up to seven days after it had killed its host. The team found traces of active virus inside and on the dead bodies of several dead lab monkeys within a week.
Researchers reported their findings Thursday by publishing them in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. They now hope that their study may help health workers fighting the deadly epidemics in Western Africa have a clearer understanding on how the Ebola virus gets transmitted.
However, epidemiology experts have long warned that the highly infectious virus in dead bodies could still infect people handling them, but no one has actually conducted an experiment to prove how long a dead Ebola victim’s body may be contagious.
The World Health Organization had been urging health officials in Africa to prohibit traditional funeral rites in Africa to prevent Ebola from further spreading for months. But people hold onto tradition so it wasn’t an easy task.
The scientists at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana gave lab monkeys fatal doses of Ebola before euthanizing them to prevent unnecessary suffering. Researchers said that the monkeys developed Ebola infections that would have eventually killed them.
By taking body fluids samples, they learned that the virus was still active on the surface of the monkeys’ bodies for at least seven days.
“Immediately after euthanasia, multiple samples were collected: oral, nasal, ocular, urogenital, rectal, skin, and blood (pooled in the body cavity) swab samples and tissue biopsy specimens.”
the study wrote.
Over ten weeks, the dead bodies were placed in vented plastic containers in a controlled temperature environment, which was set at 80 degrees F and 80 percent humidity to mimic the atmospheric conditions in Western Africa.
During the experiment, researchers performed genetic tests and found traces of the virus for as long as 10 weeks. But those traces were linked to RNA which is a non-infectious genetic part of the virus.
Scientists explained that viruses need to hijack a living cell in order to replicate, but as the body decays, and cells die, the virus also vanishes. However, active virus could survive up to seven days, the team learned.
They also said that people who had died of Ebola have extremely high levels of Ebola virus within them, so family members who looked after dying Ebola patients or touched the deceased have a high risk if infection.
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