Scientists at the prestigious Institut Pasteur in Paris believe the ebola virus has mutated during the current outbreak. Now they are trying to find out whether that has made it more contagious.
So far more than 22,000 people have been infected in this epidemic and 8,795 have died in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, making it by far the deadliest in history. The previous worst death toll came in 1976, when 280 people died in Congo and Zaire.
But for the first time since June last year, there were fewer than 100 new cases last week, leading to hopes the epidemic may finally be on the wane.
At present, it seems the virus can be passed only in bodily fluids. The great fear is that it may develop a means of infection through the air, though there is no evidence to suggest this is likely at the moment, and no similar virus has moved to this route of transmission.
Meanwhile, researchers at the Institut Pasteur are developing two vaccines they hope will be in human trials by the end of the year. (See also my blogs of 4 April, 7 June, 8 August, 8, 23 and 30 October, 2014.)