Gene Analysis May Help Spot Ebola-Like Illnesses Before Symptoms Appear

Gene Analysis May Help Spot Ebola-Like Illnesses Before Symptoms Appear

Gene Analysis May Help Spot Ebola-Like Illnesses Before Symptoms Appear

Preliminary research on hemorrhagic fever viruses uncovers early signs of infection

SOURCE: Boston University, news release, Nov. 10, 2014

THURSDAY, Nov. 13, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- It may be possible to identify different types of hemorrhagic fevers -- including one related to Ebola -- before people develop symptoms, according to new research.

Scientists studied two hemorrhagic fevers, including a cousin of Ebola called Marburg and another called Lassa. Marburg causes occasional outbreaks in Africa that have high death rates, and Lassa is common is Western Africa, the researchers reported.

Using genetic material from white blood cells, researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute were able to recognize changes in the way the genes behaved in the early stages of infection. These changes occur before someone would even have symptoms, according to the researchers. They also occur before the infection could be passed to others, according to the study published recently in the journal BMC Genomics.

The findings could help lead to better ways to diagnose hemorrhagic fevers during the early stages, when treatments and containment efforts are more likely to be effective, the researchers suggested.

They noted that early indications of hemorrhagic fevers (fever, flu symptoms) are similar, which makes proper diagnosis difficult. More disease-specific symptoms and the ability to spread the virus from person to person don't begin until after the virus has accumulated in the blood.

"The ability to distinguish between different types of infection before the appearance of overt clinical symptoms has important implications for guiding triage and containment during epidemics," study corresponding author Nacho Caballero, a Ph.D. candidate at Boston University School of Medicine, said in a university news release.

"We hope that our study will help in the development of better diagnostics, especially during the early stages of disease, when treatments have a greater chance of being effective," he added.

However, Caballero noted that "this is not a finding that can be translated into a test tomorrow. This study supports the idea that early markers of infection are there, but significant work will still need to be done to extend these findings."

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about hemorrhagic fevers.

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