Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Health Care

west-africa-ebola

Ebola in West Africa. (Photo: European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr)

Why Aren’t Previously Successful Methods Used to Stop Ebola Working Against This New Strain?

• August 04, 2014 • 2:01 PM

Ebola in West Africa. (Photo: European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr)

As the number of known infections climbs above 1,400, many questions about the virus and how it’s spreading in West Africa remain.

On Saturday, Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza wrote about the ongoing Ebola epidemic in three West African countries, and attempts by the World Health Organization and other health care agencies to stop it. She’ll be updating that story with new information throughout the week.

The good news is very good: Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports for CNN that an experimental anti-Ebola treatment derived from mouse antibodies may work. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) arranged for Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol to receive doses while still in Liberia.

Brantly improved dramatically after one dose; Writebol, after two. The “secret serum,” called ZMapp, is credited with helping to stabilize the pair for transfer to the United States, according to CNN. Brantly is currently at Emory University Hospital while Writebol is expected to arrive early Tuesday.

The bad news is that there’s little other good news. The World Health Organization has confirmed more than 60 fatalities among health care workers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the total number of known infections exceeds 1,400, as overall suspected Ebola fatalities climbs above 800. A recent false alarm at London’s Gatwick Airport highlights the threat of intercontinental spread.

“The management of the response in Liberia that I have been able to observe has been very disorganized and incompetent.” In Liberia, there was a “chance to wipe this out in April/May.”

Just as many open questions about the virus and how it’s spreading remain.

John Berestecky, a visiting professor at the University of Liberia whom a friend says has returned to the United States, followed up with me on Sunday. “I don’t think this strain is any more virulent or contagious than the others,” he adds in an after-thought. The reason for the scale of this outbreak, he suggests, lies not with the nature of this Ebola strain but human error.

“The management of the response in Liberia that I have been able to observe has been very disorganized and incompetent,” Berestecky says. In Liberia, there was a “chance to wipe this out in April/May.” “They almost did,” he writes, “but then they got lax and careless and they allowed it to resurge.”

But can we really argue that governmental responses were somehow more organized during prior outbreaks—especially in the two outbreaks in 1976, when Ebola was totally unknown?

I asked Berestecky what it is he thinks is new about the way this virus strain could be being transmitted. (He’d initially said he had “serious questions … about the official mantra that only visibly ill patients and dead bodies are significant sources of contagion.”) He’s not sure, but tells me, “if there is airborne transmission it seems it plays a very minor role.”

One reader tweeted at me to share a post about airborne transmission he seemed to think resolved the question. The post’s author asserts that airborne transmission between pigs and monkeys has less to do with the virus than the way pigs breathe: “So, unless you’re sitting next to an Ebola-infected pig, seriously, airborne transmission of Ebola viruses isn’t a big concern.” She doesn’t appear to be drawing on any information specific to this outbreak.

No one’s saying this strain of Ebola is airborne among humans, or that it can be transmitted before patients are symptomatic. Rather, a few of us are pointing out that this strain has thwarted measures and established protocols to prevent transmission that have worked in previous outbreaks. If the assumptions about transmission guiding efforts to end the outbreak need to be adapted to this particular strain, better to revisit them now.

The thing is, even the most limited incidence of airborne transmission among humans would be “a big concern.” Why? More than 1,400 cases are suspected or confirmed now. Imagine that among the thousands more who have been in contact with those infected, just a few people have been exposed via aerosolized particles. Because they never touched an infected person or fluids, they aren’t monitored or quarantined and don’t take precautions not to pass the virus along.

Making assumptions about the newest outbreak of a virus notorious for mutating may be ill-advised, WHO head Margaret Chan warned in a speech planned for delivery to the Presidents of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, “Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanisms of viruses and other microbe,” Chan said. “We must not give this virus opportunities to deliver more surprises.”


ebola-virusRELATED STORY

The Scariest Virus: Ebola Is Back, and It’s Worse Than Ever

 

Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza
Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza attended Harvard College and Yale Law School. She has written on law and politics for the Nation, the Atlantic, Politico, the Daily Beast, and CNN, and co-authored James Carville’s 40 More Years. Follow her on Twitter @rpbp.

More From Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 23 • 4:00 PM

A New Way Insurers Are Shifting Costs to the Sick

By charging higher prices for generic drugs that treat certain illness, health insurers may be violating the spirit of the Affordable Care Act, which bans discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions.


September 23 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t More Women Commit Corporate Fraud?

Would having more female leaders reduce corporate crime? We don’t know, but the research suggests it’s likely.


September 23 • 12:00 PM

A Brief History of the Loch Ness Monster

From 1933—and possibly much, much earlier—to just this past May, people have been claiming (and staging) sightings of the famed water cryptid.



September 23 • 10:00 AM

The International Surrogacy Market

In Bangalore, where many women earn just $150 a month working in garment factories, surrogate mothers can make thousands of dollars by carrying others’ babies to term. But at what cost?


September 23 • 8:00 AM

Medicare: Your New Long-Term Care Provider

A 2013 court ruling has paved the way for an incredible, costly expansion of home health care by removing a critical lever the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had to control who receives services, and for how long.


September 23 • 6:22 AM

On the Hunt for Fake Facebook Likes

A new study finds ways to uncover Facebook Like farms.


September 23 • 6:00 AM

The Heist: How Visitors Stole a National Monument

Fossil Cycad National Monument was home to one of the world’s greatest collections of fossilized cycadeoids—until visitors carried them all away.


September 23 • 4:00 AM

Fifty Shades of Meh

New research refutes the notion that reading the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy strongly impacts women’s sexual behavior.


September 23 • 2:00 AM

The Portlandia Paradox

Oregon’s largest city is full of overeducated and underemployed young people.


September 22 • 4:00 PM

The Overly Harsh and Out-of-Date Law That’s So Difficult on Debtors

A 1968 federal law allows collectors to take 25 percent of debtors’ wages, or every penny in their bank accounts.


September 22 • 2:00 PM

NFL Players Are More Law Abiding Than Average Men

According to records kept by USA Today, 2.53 percent of players are arrested in any given year.


September 22 • 12:00 PM

Freaking Out About Outliers: When the Polls Are Way Off

The idea of such a small number of people being used to predict how millions will vote sometimes irks observers, but it’s actually a very reliable process—most of the time.


September 22 • 10:00 AM

The Imagined Sex Worker

The stigma against black sex workers can reinforce stigmas against all black women and all sex workers.


September 22 • 9:54 AM

All-Girls Schools Don’t Make Girls More Competitive

Parents, not educational setting, may be the key.


September 22 • 8:00 AM

The NFL, the Military, and the Problem With Masculine Institutions

Both the NFL and the U.S. military cultivate and reward a form of hyper-violent masculinity. The consequences of doing so have never been more obvious.


September 22 • 6:00 AM

Zombies in the Quad: The Trouble With Elite Education

William Deresiewicz’s new book, Excellent Sheep, is in part, he says, a letter to his younger, more privileged self.


September 22 • 4:02 AM

You’re Going to Die! So Buy Now!

New research finds inserting reminders of our mortality into advertisements is a surprisingly effective strategy to sell products.



September 19 • 4:00 PM

In Your Own Words: What It’s Like to Get Sued Over Past Debts

Some describe their surprise when they were sued after falling behind on medical and credit card bills.



September 19 • 1:26 PM

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won’t change minds.


September 19 • 12:00 PM

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.


September 19 • 10:00 AM

Why the Poor Remain Poor

A follow-up to “How Being Poor Makes You Poor.”


September 19 • 9:03 AM

Why Science Won’t Defeat Ebola

While science will certainly help, winning the battle against Ebola is a social challenge.


Follow us


On the Hunt for Fake Facebook Likes

A new study finds ways to uncover Facebook Like farms.

All-Girls Schools Don’t Make Girls More Competitive

Parents, not educational setting, may be the key.

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won't change minds.

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.

The Big One

One in three tourists to Jamaica reports getting harassed; half of them are hassled to buy drugs. September/October 2014 new-big-one-4

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.