Source: Elizabeth Doughman, Editor-in-Chief, ALN Magazine

The Ebola virus remains viable for at least seven days after death in non-human primates. A new study, published inEmerging Infectious Diseases, suggests that Ebola transmission from deceased individuals may be possible for an extended period of time after death, underscoring the importance of using safe practices for handling corpses.

The study was conducted by testing and sampling the body surfaces and tissues of five deceased macaques used as controls in Ebola virus studies that were euthanized after showing signs of the disease, according to this press release on the NIH website. To assess the stability of the virus post-mortem, the scientists, from the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, placed the bodies in a chamber that mimicked hot and humid West African environmental conditions. The scientists regularly sampled tissues from four internal organs and sampled seven different body surfaces for the presence of live Ebola virus and viral RNA.

The results were astounding. Live virus was detectable in surface swabs up to seven days after death and in the tissue samples up to to three days post-mortem. Viral RNA was detectable in several swab and tissue types for up to 10 weeks.

“Our process for this study was two-fold,” Joe Prescott, Ph.D., lead author of the study and research fellow in the Virus Ecology Unit at Rocky Mountain Laboratories told Bioscience Technology’s sister website ALN exclusively. “There are two issues at place here. The first is diagnostics. If you come across a dead body and you swab it, can you tell if they had Ebola? Now we can more effectively diagnose if someone had Ebola, even after they died.”

The second issue is contamination. “We now better understand that almost all surfaces can potentially be contaminated post-mortem. Because of this, we can now work towards setting forward better guidelines to prevent infection based on contact with Ebola victims,” Prescott said.

The scientists believe these findings are likely to be consistent for non-human primates such as gorillas and monkeys. In fact, they designed the study to test animals found dead in the wild, but shifted the timing and emphasis to human implications related to the ongoing West Africa Ebola outbreak.

Next, the scientists are working on testing to see how long the virus remains present on other objects. “We plan on testing for viral stability on fomites, water, and other surfaces, such as gloves and tyvek suits,” Prescott added.