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Experts discover cheaper and quicker method for Ebola surveillance

Surveillance of the deadly Ebola virus could become cheaper and quicker for West African countries, said a new research spearheaded by the Broad Institute, USA.

Besides being cost-effective and fast, the new method may help countries in West Africa track outbreaks effectively even with limited resources, researchers said in the study paper, Enhanced methods for unbiased deep sequencing of Lassa and Ebola RNA viruses from clinical and biological samples.

“We were surprised that our strategy worked so well with such diverse, and often difficult samples of undefined quality and quantity. And because of the speed of our approach, we were rapidly able to make the viral genetic data available to the scientific community to provide timely insights for ongoing surveillance and control efforts in the area,” Christian Matranga, lead author from Broad Institute, said in a statement.

Researchers said the detection of viral RNA genomes in suspected patients with fever helps in confirming Ebola diagnoses and in deciding to quarantine these patients and trace their contacts.

Sequencing of viral genomes straight from blood samples, however, has many challenges, according to them.

The blood samples have very minimal viral RNA and have heavy contamination with human RNA.

Hot climates, meanwhile, bring about rapid degradation of the viral RNA material.

Biosafety measures also cause further complications in sample handlings.

That said, few genomes of the virus have been sequenced.

Researchers claimed the new method, however, lowers the contamination of human RNA from 80 percent to less than 0.5 percent.

They proved it worked through the fast sequencing of blood samples of almost 100 Ebola patients from the present outbreak, with 10 days turnaround time.

The new sequencing method could also help in the detection of new forms of the said virus, researchers explained in the study made available in Genome Biology journal.

It could likewise help in understanding viral evolution and transmission, and in allowing a deeper examination of the viral genome such as its biological features and replication method.

It could also aid in examining new RNA viruses accountable for fevers of unidentified origin.

Matranga said that the preparation and sequencing cost is relatively low, describing the method as “universal and can be used with any viral RNA sample.”

The researchers started sharing the complete details of the new approach with the research community to assist laboratories in the West African region and worldwide in quickly sequencing clinical samples of Ebola-stricken patients so as to update their response to the outbreak.

Co-senior author Pardis Sabeti, also from Broad Institute, said: “We are thrilled to be able to share our protocols with the scientific community. We hope that many labs around the world will soon be generating critical Ebola sequence data to aid the outbreak response. We are especially pleased that our outstanding collaborators in West Africa will soon be leading this effort. ”

“We have expanded our collaborations to ensure that those sequencing new Ebola cases are using a similar strategy. We are currently training individuals from federal and international agencies as well as groups in West Africa on our approach, and to enable labs to do their own viral RNA sequencing,” said Matranga.

According to co-senior study author Andi Gnerke, the Institute “has been deeply committed to developing tools to sequence many RNA viruses over the years including HIV, Dengue, RSV, and HCV,” which is why they were happy that the new approaches could likewise have impact on deadly viruses such as Ebola and Lassa.

In a separate research, medical professionals at the Emory University Hospital showed an outline of a successful protocol in acquiring chest radiographs with the use of portable computed radiography, which could improve considerably the ability of physicians to quickly evaluate suspected Ebola patients.

Said protocol doesn’t only limit the exposure of both workers and equipment to body fluids but likewise minimizes the risk of having contaminants leave the isolation unit through comprehensive decontamination procedures.

The American Journal of Roentgenology published the study titled Radiographic Imaging for Patients With Contagious Infectious Diseases: How to Acquire Chest Radiographs of Patients Infected With the Ebola Virus.

Recent figures

As of November 19, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 15,145 “confirmed, probable, and suspected” Ebola cases in six countries affected, namely Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Spain, and US, as well as in two countries previously affected, Senegal and Nigeria.

Meanwhile, deaths reported were 5,420.

WHO said transmission remains persistent in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea, and that response continues to focus in these three countries.

It also said that deaths and cases continue to be underreported in this biggest Ebola outbreak in history.

Local scenario 

In the Philippines, Department of Health Undersecretary (DOH) Janette Garin and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, along with other military officials, came under fire following their visit to Caballo Island on Sunday, where 132 Filipino peacekeepers from Liberia are on quarantine for 21 days.

According to gathered reports, the officials breached the protocol by not wearing the required protective hand gloves, masks, and suits during their visit.

The officials explained that their visit was a way to get rid of the stigma felt by the peacekeepers and that they followed—not violated—the protocol set by WHO.

Government officials, however, are split on the issue.

Some officials and private health workers expressed apprehension on the unprotected visit of Garin and Catapang.

Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III, for one, wanted the officials quarantined because the peacekeepers’ mandatory quarantine is still ongoing.

With the budget hearing up on Monday, the senators will discuss if Garin would be allowed to attend the hearing, or reset it after 21 days.

If allowed, Garin could wear protective gear when she attends the hearing, according to senators Sotto and Chiz Escudero.

Other officials, such as Senator Pia Cayetano and Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., however, placed their trust on the top officials’ judgment when the latter visited the island off Manila Bay.

Malacañang also said that it’s up to Garin to respond to calls to resign or to take a leave after the recent controversy.

Meanwhile, the WHO Philippines yesterday issued its official statement regarding the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when in contact with people from Ebola-stricken countries.

“The use of PPE is essential when in close contact with a person who is displaying the symptoms of Ebola. PPE should only be worn by those people that have been trained in the correct way to use it,” WHO said.

Various reports also said the government imposed the additional mandatory quarantine to completely assure that the country remains Ebola-free. The peacekeepers already underwent a similar quarantine in Liberia.

Even Filipino overseas workers coming from Ebola-stricken countries will undergo quarantine, the DOH said.