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Scientists managed to perform genomic sequencing in the middle of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2018 and 2020. They were able to achieve this despite the political instability in the region at the time.

Enduring physical violence

The scientists included Trevor Bedford from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Washington, Eddy Lusamaki from the National Institute of Biomedical Research in Kinshasa, DRC. They report that they could sequence samples that accounted for almost 24 percent of all the Ebola cases in the country, even with challenges like poor internet connection and physical violence. Their findings suggest that the outbreak started up to a month before the first reported case.

Another important finding from the study was that many cases in the early stages of the outbreak could be traced to a taxi driver. A few more could also be linked to a pastor at a funeral. As a result, the Ebola vaccination policy was widened to include taxi drivers and clergy members.

Scientists from the DRC also conducted sequencing in their country during the Ebola West African outbreak between 2013 and 2016. They incorporated research from Europe and the US. Their findings included that the disease could remain in a person’s body, leading to fresh outbreaks such as the one between 2018 and 2020.

Using an end-to-end surveillance system

The scientists used an end-to-end genomic surveillance system, which included bioinformatics analysis, sequencing, and distribution of genomic epidemiologic results to frontline health workers, thereby curbing a spread. Genomic epidemiologic data was also widely used to describe the outbreak.

New findings report 744 new genomes sampled between 2018 and 2020, generated by the Surveillance system. The current surveillance data inclusive of previously available data represents 24 percent of all reported Ebola cases in the DRC.

What fed the rapid spread?

Researchers observe that the movement of viral linkages between health zones fueled the epidemic. With only a small number of lineages circulating in one health zone, it wasn’t easy to contain the spread.