West Africa is currently witnessing the most extensive Ebola virus (EBOV) outbreak so far recorded. Until now, there have been 27,013 reported cases and 11,134 deaths. The origin of the virus is thought to have been a zoonotic transmission from a bat to a two-year-old boy in December 2013 (ref. 2). From this index case the virus was spread by human-to-human contact throughout Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. However, the origin of the particular virus in each country and time of transmission is not known and currently relies on epidemiological analysis, which may be unreliable owing to the difficulties of obtaining patient information. Here we trace the genetic evolution of EBOV in the current outbreak that has resulted in multiple lineages. Deep sequencing of 179 patient samples processed by the European Mobile Laboratory, the first diagnostics unit to be deployed to the epicentre of the outbreak in Guinea, reveals an epidemiological and evolutionary history of the epidemic from March 2014 to January 2015. Analysis of EBOV genome evolution has also benefited from a similar sequencing effort of patient samples from Sierra Leone. Our results confirm that the EBOV from Guinea moved into Sierra Leone, most likely in April or early May. The viruses of the Guinea/Sierra Leone lineage mixed around June/July 2014. Viral sequences covering August, September and October 2014 indicate that this lineage evolved independently within Guinea. These data can be used in conjunction with epidemiological information to test retrospectively the effectiveness of control measures, and provides an unprecedented window into the evolution of an ongoing viral haemorrhagic fever outbreak.
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Polly E Eccleston (Other), Simon H Atack (Other) & D A G Williams (Manager)