Headlines: Ebola

The Ebola breakout in West Africa started  March 2014, but interest peaked in the United States in September and October. The United States focused on the impact of Ebola within the country and not the impact internationally. The outbreak here started with Thomas Duncan, who contracted the disease after traveling in Africa and was the first person to be diagnosed in the United States. The story of Dr. Craig Spencer, who contracted the disease while working with Ebola patients in Guinea, was treated in the United States, and survived was another closely followed story. Due to a widespread panic about Ebola across the country, the White House released information about how Ebola is spread and claimed that the United States has the best healthcare in the world and was prepared to respond to other cases.

Since the start of the outbreak, there have been more than 21,000 reported cases and 8,800 deaths worldwide. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the outbreak started in rural Guinea when a toddler contracted Ebola. The disease spread to village healthcare workers and then to Liberia and Sierra Leone through trade routes. Because of this, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone are the three most effected countries in West Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the weekly numbers of cases reported have dropped significantly. Although this sounds positive, there is still a chance of resurgence in the number of cases. WHO says tracing those who have been exposed to Ebola patients is key to preventing the spread of Ebola and tracing needs to be intensified in rural areas.

A potentially effective vaccine is being tested and cases are decreasing in West Africa. The vaccine was developed by British company GlaxoSmithKline and the US National Institutes of Health. A limited number of doses of the vaccine are being tested in Liberia on volunteers. Before the vaccine can be mass distributed it needs to be labeled safe and effective by WHO. The vaccine has been safely tested on healthy people in unaffected countries, but for WHO to know if it effectively prevents Ebola it needs to be tested in the hardest hit countries. With the number of reported cases per week falling, it will be harder to track the effectiveness of the vaccine. WHO and other health organizations are saying the development of this vaccine is not just important for the current Ebola outbreak, but for future outbreaks.

Researchers at the Pasteur Institute in France have recently expressed concern over the possibility of mutation of the Ebola virus. Researchers have been tracking the changes in the virus since the beginning of the outbreak. Several cases have been reported asymptomatic, which could indicate that the virus has mutated to be less deadly, but more contagious. Mutations of viruses can change how they are transmitted and the response to vaccines and drugs. Track the changes in the virus in comparison to the survival rate (which currently stands at about 40 percent) is allowing the Pasteur Institute to work on a vaccine to be distributed worldwide. The Pasteur Institute hopes their vaccine will be in human trials by the end of 2015.

Brianna Steiert

Brianna Steiert is a senior Oxbridge Molecular Biology major and mathematics minor. She serves as Features and Managing editors for the Hilltop Monitor.

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