Menus Subscribe Search

Quick Studies

ebola1

Ebola virus virion. (Photo: Public Domain)

Why Ebola Is Winning

• July 07, 2014 • 10:22 AM

Ebola virus virion. (Photo: Public Domain)

In the fight against the latest Ebola outbreak, underfunded medical workers in West Africa are logistically outmanned.

The number of West Africans killed in the Ebola outbreak is approaching 500, and the disease has spread since January from the Guinean epicenter of Gueckedou to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Medical workers striving to contain the hemorrhagic disease are failing—and at least 32 of them have died after being infected.

International support for these indigent nations has been insufficient, despite assistance from Médecins Sans Frontières, the United Nations, and scientists from the United States and elsewhere.

“If we do not provide the support to stop the transmission,” Liberia’s deputy health minister, Bernice Dahn, warned during a recent emergency meeting in Ghana, “other countries will get infected as well.”

Once the Ebola virus jumps from an animal to a person, through the consumption of wild meat, for example, the victim can spread the disease to others, even during funeral rituals.

The World Health Organization says $10 million will be needed during the next six months to address the crisis—which is less than one watchmaker raised through Kickstarter. But throwing cash at the virus won’t send it to oblivion.

“Logistical challenges are a bigger issue now than money,” says George Mason University’s Kathryn Jacobsen, the author of a new “call to action” paper published online Saturday in The Lancet.

Once the Ebola virus jumps from an animal to a person, through the consumption of wild meat, for example, the victim can spread the disease to others, even during funeral rituals. During outbreaks since 1976 in Sudan and what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, the disease killed most of its victims—by triggering the bloody crumbling of organs. German researchers reported in May in Antiviral Research that they cured mice that had been infected for six days with Ebola using Favipiravir, an anti-viral drug being developed for the treatment of influenza. But that drug is not yet available even in wealthy nations—let alone in West Africa. Other drugs that can provide protection against Ebola must be taken within two days of infection, which is an impossibly short time frame to treat a viral pathogen whose symptoms can take two to 21 days to manifest.

In the paper, Jacobsen and fellow researchers affiliated with the Mercy Hospital Research Laboratory, which runs an infectious disease surveillance project in Sierra Leone, described the critical problems that are helping Ebola run rampant:

  • Most fevers are treated in the region at home using over-the-counter or traditional medicines. There’s very little incentive for the sick and dying to seek expensive medical care. Hospitals lack sufficient staff and equipment. Few, if any, laboratories are capable of safely testing for diseases such as Ebola. And that all means that many Ebola cases could be going undetected, allowing the disease to spread.
  • Data sharing and other technological tools for tracking disease outbreaks are severely lacking.
  • The few doctors and nurses working in the region lack access to equipment that would protect them from infection, making some reluctant to provide treatment.
  • Communication between health authorities and residents is often poor.

“It’s important both to allocate resources for immediate containment activities and to prioritize longer-term capacity building that will improve future responses to Ebola—and other emerging infectious disease threats,” Jacobsen says.

John Upton
John Upton is a science journalist with an ecology background. He has written recently for VICE, Slate, Nautilus, Modern Farmer, Grist, and Audubon magazine. He blogs at Wonk on the Wildlife. Upton's favorite eukaryotes are fungi, but he won't fault you for being human. Follow him on Twitter @johnupton.

More From John Upton

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

Recent Posts

September 2 • 6:00 AM

The Rise of Biblical Counseling

For millions of Christians, biblical counselors have replaced psychologists. Some think it’s time to reverse course.


September 2 • 5:12 AM

No Innovation Without Migration

People bring their ideas with them when they move from place to place.


September 2 • 4:00 AM

Why Middle School Doesn’t Have to Suck

Some people suspect the troubles of middle school are a matter of age. Middle schoolers, they think, are simply too moody, pimply, and cliquish to be easily educable. But these five studies might convince you otherwise.


September 2 • 3:13 AM

Coming Soon: When Robots Lie


September 2 • 2:00 AM

Introducing the New Issue of ‘Pacific Standard’

The science of self-control, the rise of biblical counseling, why middle school doesn’t have to suck, and more in our September/October 2014 print issue.


September 1 • 1:00 PM

Television and Overeating: What We Watch Matters

New research finds fast-moving programming leads to mindless overeating.



September 1 • 6:00 AM

Why Someone Named Monty Iceman Sold Doogie Howser’s Estate

How unusual names, under certain circumstances, can lead to success.



August 29 • 4:00 PM

The Hidden Costs of Tobacco Debt

Even when taxpayers aren’t explicitly on the hook, tobacco bonds can cost states and local governments money. Here’s how.


August 29 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t Men and Women Wear the Same Gender-Neutral Bathing Suits?

They used to in the 1920s.


August 29 • 11:48 AM

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.


August 29 • 10:00 AM

True Darwinism Is All About Chance

Though the rich sometimes forget, Darwin knew that nature frequently rolls the dice.


August 29 • 8:00 AM

Why Our Molecular Make-Up Can’t Explain Who We Are

Our genes only tell a portion of the story.


August 29 • 6:00 AM

Strange Situations: Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

When college women leave home, does attachment behavior make them more vulnerable to campus rape?


August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.


August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


August 28 • 12:00 PM

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Meme Money

The ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million over the past month, 50 times what it raised in the same period last year. How will that money be spent, and how can non-profit executives make a windfall last?


August 28 • 11:56 AM

Outlawing Water Conflict: California Legislators Confront Risky Groundwater Loophole

California, where ambitious agriculture sucks up 80 percent of the state’s developed water, is no stranger to water wrangles. Now one of the worst droughts in state history is pushing legislators to reckon with its unwieldy water laws, especially one major oversight: California has been the only Western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.


August 28 • 11:38 AM

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.


August 28 • 10:00 AM

The Five Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Doctor

“Sometimes people just get pains.”


August 28 • 8:00 AM

Why I’m Not Sharing My Coke

Andy Warhol, algorithms, and a bunch of popular names printed on soda cans.


August 28 • 6:00 AM

Can Outdoor Art Revitalize Outdoor Advertising?

That art you’ve been seeing at bus stations and billboards—it’s serving a purpose beyond just promoting local museums.


August 28 • 4:00 AM

Linguistic Analysis Reveals Research Fraud

An examination of papers by the discredited Diederik Stapel finds linguistic differences between his legitimate and fraudulent studies.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

The Big One

One third of the United States federal budget for fighting wildfires goes toward one percent of such fires. September/October 2014 big-one-fires-final

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