Field of Science

Who cares about ebola?

Allow me to play the Devil's advocate:

Ebola has struck again in Uganda, and to date, at least 15 people have died from it and a further 32 are in isolation in the country. This is the most recent outbreak in what appears to be an annual occurrence in Central Africa. What I'd like to know is: why do we care?

Numbers of African outbreaks since 1976 to 2012, based on CDC records. 

The African strains at least, of Ebola are probably not as fatal in humans as reported (see Vincent Racaniellos take here), as a disease it doesn't really effect all that many people and I think Africa has a lot more pressing public health issues than really worrying about a virus like this one - malaria, vaccination campaigns and malnutrition.

The ebola belt traces the area of rain/deciduous forest covering Central Africa from the Cote d'Ivore in the West to Uganda and South Sudan in the East. Somewhere inside that forest lies in wait, Ebola. 

Currently a lot of research is being carried out on Ebola and related viruses and we are making excellent progress in understanding how the virus infects and replicates in our cells but also how our body responds to it and how this leads to the fatal, often haemorrhagic, fever that is ebola.We are even beginning to understand how this virus, a virus of fruit bats, can spill over into other animal populations nearby, like primates and us. 

All this information could help lead to the development of antiviral molecules or even an ebola vaccine or even a potential preventative measure based on some sort of control of host species.

But are there more useful things for us to spend our money on? Which of the above areas of research would be the most cost effective and successful? Is research on ebola pursued on the back of a potential bioterrorism concern rather than on public health thinking?

Why should we care about ebola? Answers on a postcare below.

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