NEW YORK – A group of German medical doctors in a peer-reviewed medical journal article published by Oxford University Press have challenged a key assumption regarding the Ebola virus repeatedly asserted by Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
The researchers found that a patient showing no symptoms of the disease can still transmit a virus like Ebola by air if droplets containing the virus are transmitted to another person by a sneeze or cough.
As WND reported Tuesday, the World Health Organization has admitted that “wet and bigger droplets from a heavily infected individual, who has respiratory symptoms caused by other conditions or who vomits violently could transmit the Ebola virus over a short distance to another nearby person.”
WHO said it could happen when “virus-laden heavy droplets are directly propelled, by coughing or sneezing onto the mucus membranes or skin with cuts or abrasions of another person.”
Still, WHO added a qualification, insisting the transmission of Ebola by sneezing or coughing is not within its definition of airborne transmission.
News broke Wednesday morning that the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., Thomas Eric Duncan, had died in Dallas. The victim’s home neighborhood in the Liberian capital, meanwhile, remained under quarantine.
Later Wednesday, a Texas sheriff’s deputy was rushed to the hospital in Frisco, Texas, with Ebola symptoms after delivering a quarantine notice to the apartment where Duncan was staying.
WND reported Wednesday Liberia is preventing journalists from reporting Ebola-related stories from health care centers in the country unless they obtain written permission from the government. The news came as the World Health Organization issued a statement warning that the officially reported decline in new cases in Liberia over the past three weeks “is unlikely to be genuine,” because problems with data gathering continue.
‘Not easily detected’
The German physicians, led by Dr. Timm H. Westhoff of the Department of Nephrology at the Carité Campus Benjamin Franklin in Berlin, noted in a virology blog published Feb. 12, 2009, that acute viral infections such as Ebola hemorrhagic fever may cause little or no clinical symptoms in a so-called “inapparent infection” yet may be contagious.
“A well-known example is poliovirus: over 90% are without infections,” Westhoff and his colleagues continued. “During an inapparent infection, sufficient virus replication occurs in the host to induce antiviral antibodies, but not enough to cause disease. Such infections are important for the spread of infection, because they are not easily detected.”
Westhoff and his colleagues then made the key point that individuals with an inapparent infection, showing no symptoms, can yet spread diseases such as polio.
“During the height of the polio epidemic in the United States, the quarantine of paralyzed patients had no effect on the spread of the disease, because 99 percent of the infected individuals had no symptoms and were leading normal lives spreading infection.”
Westhoff and his colleagues also discussed the risk of spreading Ebola by sneezing or coughing.
“An example of a classic acute infection is uncomplicated influenza,” the medical doctors noted. “Virus particles are inhaled in droplets produced by sneezing or coughing, and begin replicating in ciliated columnar epithelial cells of the respiratory tract. As new infectious virions are produced, they spread to neighboring cells.”
The point was clear: “Inapparent infections probably are important features of pathogens that are well-adapted to their hosts. They replicate sufficiently to endure the spread to new hosts, but not enough to damage the host and prevent transmission.”
Westhoff and his associates conclude: “Acute viral infections are responsible for epidemics of disease involving millions of individuals each year, such as influenza and measles. When vaccines are not available, acute infections are difficult to control – most are complete by the time the patient feels ill, and the virus has already spread to another host.”
The German physicians published in 2008 the fundamental medical research that formed the basis for their blog comments, demonstrating kidney-transplant patients could carry the norovirus infection that is common in cases of acute gastroenteritis, even if the patient was asymptomatic.
Westhoff’s 2008 study provided “the first evidence” that norovirus, typically a self-limiting disease of short duration, can cause chronic infection in renal transplant recipients,” even when there are no symptoms of acute gastroenteritis evident in the patient.
Dr. Norman M. Balog, D.O., a board-certified family doctor practicing in Silver Spring, Maryland, brought the research of the German medical team to the attention of WND as evidence that the CDC’s Frieden could not prove his assertion air travel was safe as long as a person infected with Ebola were not showing symptoms. An infected person can go as long as 21 days in an incubation period before being infected.
“Dr. Freiden is either completely uninformed of this research,” Balog explained to WND in an exclusive telephone interview, “or he is deliberately lying because he does not want to panic the general public.”
Balog pointed out that asymptomatic carriers of diseases infecting others is a phenomenon that has been widely documented in virology studies for decades.
“There’s a good potential that on any given day a person you may shake hands with will have Strep Group A Streptococcus that causes sore throats,” he pointed out. “Shaking hands you take the risk you are going to get the Streptococcus virus, even if the person you shook hands with looked perfectly well.”
Balog explained to WND much of the fundamental research on Ebola, including the conditions under which asymptomatic carriers of the disease can infect others, has yet to be conducted and reported in peer-reviewed medical journals.
“Dr. Freiden and the CDC have been reassuring the American public from the beginning of the current outbreak that we can contain and control Ebola, no problem; but the first assurances were three continents ago,” he pointed out. “Now we have Ebola in the United States and in Spain. Where is Ebola going to show up next?”
Balog was critical of the steps taken so far by the CDC to contain the Ebola outbreak.
“Ebola is spreading a lot faster than anybody expected,” he said.
“But even today we are not stopping people from West Africa from boarding international air flights; health officials in Dallas did not put up a fence around Duncan’s apartment complex; and it took several days before Dallas health authorities found anyone qualified to clean up the vomit outside Duncan’s apartment. And then the workers just washed the vomit down into the town storm drains.”
Balog pointed out the medical literature on virology commonly says asymptomatic but infected individuals can spread a disease to others before showing any signs of being sick.
“We have medical models that say a person is capable of secreting a virus like Ebola in bodily fluids before the person displays symptoms of the disease,” he stressed, “and that medical evidence is simply being ignored by Dr. Frieden and the CDC when the public is told repeatedly it’s OK to let Ebola-infected people fly as long as they don’t have a fever.”