Nigeria continues to scramble in search of ways to curtail the spread of the now-dreaded Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), following the death and infection of victims in Lagos and Rivers states, fresh indications have emerged that the disease could assume a more dangerous dimension, putting the entire world at greater risk.
In a report obtained by Sunday Tribune, Ebola, researchers also claimed, has the capacity to become airborne, just as it was noted that 15 African countries could be hit on a larger scale.
There were fears that the outbreak might put 22 million people at risk in Africa, with particular attention on West Africa, which the experts noted, “is likely to be home to more animals harbouring the virus than previously feared.”
According to findings of a study conducted by scientists at Oxford University, West African countries, including Nigeria, might be hit by EVD, which experts noted, have a mortality rate of up to 90 per cent and is reportedly carried by bats or other wild animals and could be transmitted to other humans through contact with blood, meat or other infected fluids.
In a map of the countries likely to be hit by EVD unless measures were taken to “understand better where people come into contact with Ebola-infected animals – for example through hunting or eating bush meat – and stopping them from contracting the deadly disease,” Nigeria is predicted to be second worst hit by the fresh outbreaks with 2.1 million of the population while the worst hit is predicted to be Democratic Republic of Congo with 11.7 million of the population.
According to an online report, an Oxford University researcher, Nick Golding, who worked on the international mapping team, said it found significantly more regions at risk from Ebola than previously feared.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) claimed that almost 2,300 have died from Ebola in the current outbreak in West Africa, which has infected about 4,300 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal, noting that it would take months to bring the epidemic, which it acknowledged, is spiralling dangerously, under control.
In a related development, there were concerns that the Ebola virus could mutate to become airborne, with Dr Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota saying that virologists were privately concerned the deadly virus could change from its current form of spread through close contact with a victim’s body fluids to become airborne.
He warned that viruses similar to Ebola were notorious for replicating and reinventing themselves, a development which Sunday Tribune learnt could portend grave danger for the fight to stop EVD’s spread as the virus outbreak might differ from region to region, thus threatening ongoing efforts to find a lasting cure to the disease.
Dr Osterholm, in an online report, had warned that if the virus developed, it could be transmissible via the air, but the chair of the Health Protection Agency in the United Kingdom, Professor David Heymann, ruled out the possibility of EVD mutating, saying: “It is ‘impossible’ for scientists to predict any mutation” and that “not enough is known about genetics to know if the virus will be able to attach to the receptors in the respiratory system.”
Another scientist, Professor Heymann, who spoke to MailOnline, said: ‘No one can predict what will happen with the mutation of the virus,” noting that the best thing to do was to stop the outbreak.
This is amid growing fears that the EVD might be used as a weapon of bioterrorism, with the recent report of a United States Air Marshall being allegedly stabbed with a syringe at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, sending jitters down the spines of scientists and experts in bioterrorism.
Though a report on New York Times’s website stated that initial tests on the substance in the syringe used in attacking the US air force top shot did not detect EVD or any other dangerous agent, a terrorist could expose himself to the Ebola infection and get through customs to have contact with people, who might not show symptoms for a week or more after exposure.
According to a Florida-based psychiatrist and expert in bioterrorism, Dr Ryan C.W. Hall, isolating the virus would take a lot of resources but people willing to die could go to any length to carry out such attack which “would not kill many, or even any, in an advanced country…But could strike terror and cause economic disruption” said a Special Assistant to President George W. Bush on Biodefence Policy, Dr Robert Kladec.