Fewer than 100 new cases of the Ebola virus were reported in a week for the first time since June 2014, according to recent figures from the World Health Organisation.
The WHO says focus is now shifting to ending the epidemic. In the week to 25 January, 30 cases were reported in Guinea, four in Liberia and 65 in Sierra Leone. As of 25 January, 22,092 Ebola cases had been reported worldwide and 8,810 deaths recorded, of which the great majority were in those three countries.
According to the WHO, each of those countries now has enough treatment beds to isolate and treat Ebola patients and to bury everyone known to have died of the disease.
Scientists are now beginning the task of analysing hundreds of blood samples from Ebola patients in Guinea and are investigating if the virus is becoming more contagious.
“We know the virus is changing quite a lot,” human geneticist Dr Anajav Sakuntabhai told the BBC. It is not unusual for viruses to change over time. “We’ve now seen several cases that don’t have any symptoms at all, asymptomatic cases. These people may be the people who can spread the virus better, but we still don’t know that yet. A virus can change itself to less deadly but more contagious and that’s something we are afraid of.”
While the lower rate of infection is welcome news, it also makes the task of testing vaccines against Ebola more difficult. Trials of a vaccine by GlaxoSmithKline were due to begin in Liberia to compare infection rates among vaccinated and unvaccinated groups of people.
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