The Ebola epidemic is continuing to spread in West Africa. In March 2014, Guinea was reporting its first cases of the Ebola virus disease to the World Health Organization (WHO). The disease has since spread beyond Guinea’s borders to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Within the past several days, a first case has been reported in Lagos and subsequently another in Freetown. According to the WHO’s latest report of 20 July, 1,093 cases of Ebola have been recorded and 660 people have died of the virus. 28 deaths were reported between 18 and 20 July.
The Ebola virus is a highly contagious, lethal virus for which no treatment as yet exists. The symptoms are not very specific, involving fever, severe diarrhoea and vomiting. 30 to 90% of people infected die from the effects of their infection.
Researchers at Inserm (at the P4 Laboratory in Lyon) and the Pasteur Institute have revealed in an article that appeared last April in The New England Journal of Medicine, on the basis of samples originating from Guinea, that the virus currently spreading in West Africa is in fact a variant of the Ebola virus identified in the Republic of Congo and Gabon.
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Research on the Ebola virus at Inserm
The Jean Mérieux BSL-4 Laboratory is a high-level containment laboratory dedicated to the study of class 4 pathogens. The biological safety level applied is 4, the highest possible level. The researchers working there wear a full body, air-supplied, positive pressure suit to protect them from all contamination. The laboratory is itself maintained under negative pressure in order to protect the environment. Moreover, all wastes produced are completely inactivated, and the exhaust air is purified by a double absolute filtration system. This laboratory today remains the structure offering the largest experimental capacity in Europe for this containment level.
Highly pathogenic agents:
Class 4 pathogens (or risk group 4) are highly pathogenic microorganisms characterised by a very high mortality rate, a lack of prophylactic or therapeutic measures to provide protection, and ready transmissibility. All class 4 pathogens currently known are viruses, and include viruses that cause haemorrhagic fevers or encephalitis. They include the Ebola, Marburg, Lassa, Junin, Machupo, Guanarito, Sabia, Crimean-Congo, Nipah and Hendra viruses.