News You Really Need To See: “Outbreak in Sierra Leone Is Tied to Single Funeral Where 14 Women Were Infected”

“Outbreak in Sierra Leone Is Tied to Single Funeral Where 14 Women Were Infected”

The New York Times, August 29, 2014, p.A7

“Sierra Leone’s explosion of Ebola cases in early summer appears to stem from one traditional healer’s funeral at which 14 women were infected, according to scientists studying the blood of victims. … The scientists not only found that all 78 had virus traceable to funeral guests, but also showed that the West African Ebola strain was quite different from a strain that has been circulating thousands of miles away in Central Africa since 1976, and that the two probably diverged as far back as 2004. … That information is important, experts said, because the diagnostic tests now in use, as well as drugs and vaccines under consideration, are based on the Central African strain and might not work well on this outbreak.  For example, a diagnostic test in use now might not give a clear positive if a victim had a low viral load early in an infection. … The work had a sobering footnote: Before it could be published, five of its co-authors died of Ebola.  They included Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, Sierra Leone’s leading hemorrhagic fever expert, and four other staff members at the Kenema hospital.  By midsummer, so many hospital staff members and patients had died that it was considered a death trap and partly vacated.”

Quickie Analysis:  It’s a very bad sign when your main diagnostic tool might not work.

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