Researchers at the Rega Institute at KU Leuven in Belgium have used genetic data to map the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa between 2013 and 2016 in order to find out which intervention strategies would have been most effective in containing the disease.
"We created a genetic family tree of the epidemic, in time as well as space, with the oldest DNA sample from early 2014 in Guinea, a sample of the virus when it entered Sierra Leone in March or April 2014, and so on," said Professor Guy Baele, KU Leuven. The researchers connected this family tree of the epidemic to other information such as geographical information and transportation.
They found that long-distance transportation doesn’t seem to have been important in spreading the virus, and that it actually spread due to short-distance travelling. "Contrary to what happens during a flu epidemic, the Ebola epidemic spread due to short-distance travelling,” said Simon Dellicour, KU Leuven. “The epidemic stepped up its pace once the virus had reached Conakry, Freetown and Monrovia – the capitals of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, respectively. These capitals attracted the virus, so to speak, and played a key role in spreading it."
The team said that the research provides a quick and accurate view of the key times and locations of the Ebola epidemic, enabling them to see where and when they should have intervened, and that it will be useful in ongoing and future epidemics.