DAKAR, Feb 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Most people
infected with Ebola in the world's worst outbreak of the deadly
virus contracted it from just a tiny fraction of patients known
as "superspreaders", researchers said on Tuesday.
Six in 10 cases of the disease, which ravaged the West
African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone between 2013
and 2016, were caused by just three percent of infected people,
according to research carried out by several health experts.
If these superspreaders, who were most likely to be under 15
and over 45, had been identified and quarantined promptly, most
Ebola cases could have been avoided, the study published in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found.
The slow international response to the epidemic outbreak was
criticised in 2015 by medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres
(MSF), which first raised the alarm over Ebola, for having
created an avoidable tragedy that cost thousands of lives.
"It was the infected people who didn't make it to health
centres, and into isolation, that drove the epidemic," said
Amanda McClelland, emergency health advisor at the International
Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
"The lesson to be learned is that you need to find every
single case if you are going to stop an outbreak," McClelland
told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The Ebola epidemic infected more than 28,600 people and
killed around 11,300 before coming under control last year.
Children under 15 years old and adults over 45 were the
biggest spreaders of Ebola, according to the study, which
examined 200 cases in and around the capital of Sierra Leone,
Younger and older patients were more likely to have been
looked after for by many relatives and caregivers, thus fuelling
the spread of the disease, several of the researchers said.
Many people in the three Ebola-hit countries contracted the
virus, which is passed on through blood and bodily fluids, by
holding and embracing the infected, and washing and touching the
bodies of the deceased at traditional burials.
"People between the ages of 15 and 45 were most likely to be
carers and caring for someone with Ebola is a big risk factor in
contracting the virus," said Sebastian Funk, assistant professor
at The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
Superspreaders also fuelled epidemics of Severe Acute
Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, in 2003 and Middle East
Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012, according to the study.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights,
trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.