Outbreak of Ebola virus in Sierra Leone traced to funeral

Ebola spread to Sierra Leone via fourteen women who attended a funeral in Guinea and carried the virus back to Sierra Leone, researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, together with colleagues from West Africa, revealed in a study published August 28, 2014 in Science. Their analysis of Ebola samples revealed the hundreds of mutations the virus has accumulated that distinguish it from past outbreaks.

Pardis Sabeti, associate professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard School of Public Health and senior associate member of the Broad Institute, supervised the study. The team worked in round-the-clock shifts on the urgent research, even while learning that their collaborators were being affected by the disease. Five of the study’s African authors died from Ebola before the research could be published.

“We wake up, we learn some news, we bawl our eyes out, and we try and figure out what we can do,” Sabeti told the Boston Globe. “My lab has never been this sad and never been this motivated since I started it.”

The urgency caused the researchers to move quickly and in non-traditional ways. They made their findings public almost in real time, rather than keeping them private so that Sabeti and her team could be the first to study them—the typical practice in scientific research.

Read study abstract: Genomic surveillance elucidates Ebola virus origin and transmission during the 2014 outbreak

Read Boston Globe article: Harvard lab delves into Ebola outbreak

Additional coverage

New York TimesOutbreak in Sierra Leone Is Tied to Single Funeral Where 14 Women Were Infected

Harvard Gazette: Ebola genomes sequenced

Nature video featuring Sabeti and HSPH visiting scientist Christian Happi: Ebola virus mutating rapidly as it spreads