Periodically, for unclear reasons, Ebola appears in Africa, sparks a small outbreak, and then disappears.
Such is the now the case now with the relatively large outbreak in a forested region of Guinea. Thus far, 59 people are confirmed dead with a total of 80 infected.
While Ebola captures headlines, two facets of its nature delimit its potential for large, sustained outbreaks:
- Ebola outbreaks tend to end when simple infection control is instituted (barrier nursing)
- Ebola victims are too sick to spread the infection to people other than those in close contact (often those caring for the patient)
What is endlessly fascinating about Ebola is understanding its ecology. I often think of questions such as:
What are the mechanics and logistics of how Ebola spills from bats to non-human primates, antelopes, and humans?
What is the means by which the initial human infection occurs?
What would happen if Ebola went head-to-head with 21st Century critical care medicine?
Such questions will likely remain unanswered for some time, but thinking about potential answers is intellectually challenging and may provide great insight into the interactions between humans, wildlife, and pathogens. But each new outbreak brings us closer to the answer.