One of the scientists who discovered Ebola fears the virus could mutate and cause many more people to become infected, an “apocalyptic scenario” that threatens to cause a “humanitarian catastrophe,” according to Professor Peter Piot.
Professor Piot was part of a team of scientists that first discovered the Ebola virus in 1976 after analyzing a blood sample from a Belgian nun who fell ill in Zaire.
In an interview with the Guardian, Piot agreed that the more people who become infected with Ebola, the greater chance of the virus mutating.
“Yes, that really is the apocalyptic scenario,” said Piot. “Humans are actually just an accidental host for the virus, and not a good one. From the perspective of a virus, it isn’t desirable for its host, within which the pathogen hopes to multiply, to die so quickly. It would be much better for the virus to allow us to stay alive longer.”
Warning that “many more people” would be struck down with Ebola if the virus mutates, Piot said a “humanitarian catastrophe” was on the horizon that threatens to destabilize the entire region, adding, “it is clear that the virus is mutating.”
The professor said that while the United States and Europe would be able to deal with any wider outbreak, workers who travel back from West Africa to India could spread the virus amongst hospital staff who don’t wear protective gloves.
Although Piot did not address whether he thought the virus had gone airborne to any extent, other experts have expressed concerns that a worst case scenario could eventually unfold.
Last week, Anthony Banbury, the United Nations’ Ebola response chief warned of the “nightmare scenario” that Ebola could go airborne as a result of a mutation if it continues to infect new hosts.
Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, also acknowledged in a recent New York Times op-ed that virologists are “loath to discuss openly but are definitely considering in private” the possibility that Ebola has gone airborne.
Professors at the University of Illinois in Chicago also recently asserted that the Ebola virus has the potential to be transmitted via “infectious aerosol particles both near and at a distance from infected patients,” suggesting that the current understanding of Ebola only being communicable via direct contact is inaccurate.