Perhaps the only good news from the tragic Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia is that it may serve as a wake-up call: we must prepare for future epidemics of diseases that may spread more effectively than Ebola. There is a significant chance that an epidemic of a substantially more infectious disease will occur sometime in the next 20 years; after all, we saw major epidemics during the 20th century, including the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 and the ongoing pandemic of human immunodeficiency virus. In fact, of all the things that could kill more than 10 million . . .
In its largest outbreak, Ebola virus disease is spreading through Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. We sequenced 99 Ebola virus genomes from 78 patients in Sierra Leone to ~2000× coverage. We observed a rapid accumulation of interhost and intrahost genetic variation, allowing us to characterize patterns of viral transmission over the initial weeks of the epidemic. This West African variant likely diverged from central African lineages around 2004, crossed from Guinea to Sierra Leone in May 2014, and has exhibited sustained human-to-human transmission subsequently, with no evidence of additional zoonotic sources. Because many of the mutations alter protein sequences and other biologically meaningful targets, they should be monitored for impact on diagnostics, vaccines, and therapies critical to outbreak response.
Background On March 23, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) was notified of an outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in Guinea. On August 8, the WHO declared the epidemic to be a “public health emergency of international concern.” Methods By September 14, 2014, a total of 4507 probable and confirmed cases, including 2296 deaths from EVD (Zaire species) had been reported from five countries in West Africa - Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. We analyzed a detailed subset of data on 3343 confirmed and 667 probable Ebola cases collected in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone as of September 14. Results The majority of patients are 15 to 44 years of age (49.9% male), and we estimate that the case fatality rate is 70.8% (95% confidence interval [CI], 69 to 73) among persons with known clinical outcome of infection. The course of infection, including signs and symptoms, incubation period (11.4 days), and serial interval (15.3 days), is similar to that reported in previous outbreaks of EVD. On the basis of the initial periods of exponential growth, the estimated basic reproduction numbers (R0 ) are 1.71 (95% CI, 1.44 to 2.01) for Guinea, 1.83 (95% CI, 1.72 to 1.94) for Liberia, and 2.02 (95% CI, 1.79 to 2.26) for Sierra Leone. The estimated current reproduction numbers ® are 1.81 (95% CI, 1.60 to 2.03) for Guinea, 1.51 (95% CI, 1.41 to 1.60) for Liberia, and 1.38 (95% CI, 1.27 to 1.51) for Sierra Leone; the corresponding doubling times are 15.7 days (95% CI, 12.9 to 20.3) for Guinea, 23.6 days (95% CI, 20.2 to 28.2) for Liberia, and 30.2 days (95% CI, 23.6 to 42.3) for Sierra Leone. Assuming no change in the control measures for this epidemic, by November 2, 2014, the cumulative reported numbers of confirmed and probable cases are predicted to be 5740 in Guinea, 9890 in Liberia, and 5000 in Sierra Leone, exceeding 20,000 in total. Conclusions These data indicate that without drastic improvements in control measures, the numbers of cases of and deaths from EVD are expected to continue increasing from hundreds to thousands per week in the coming months.
Poverty has been implicated as a challenge in the control of the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Although disparities between affected countries have been appreciated, disparities within West African countries have not been investigated as drivers of Ebola transmission. To quantify the role that poverty plays in the transmission of Ebola, we analyzed heterogeneity of Ebola incidence and transmission factors among over 300 communities, categorized by socioeconomic status (SES), within Montserrado County, Liberia.
The West African cocoa belt, reaching from Sierra Leone to southern Cameroon, is the origin of about 70% of the world’s cocoa (Theobroma cacao), which in turn is the basis of the livelihoods of about two million farmers. We analyze cocoa’s vulnerability to climate change in the West African cocoa belt, based on climate projections for the 2050s of 19 Global Circulation Models under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change intermediate emissions scenario RCP 6.0. We use a combination of a statistical model of climatic suitability (Maxent) and the analysis of individual, potentially limiting climate variables. We find that: 1) contrary to expectation, maximum dry season temperatures are projected to become as or more limiting for cocoa as dry season water availability; 2) to reduce the vulnerability of cocoa to excessive dry season temperatures, the systematic use of adaptation strategies like shade trees in cocoa farms will be necessary, in reversal of the current trend of shade reduction; 3) there is a strong differentiation of climate vulnerability within the cocoa belt, with the most vulnerable areas near the forest-savanna transition in Nigeria and eastern Côte d'Ivoire, and the least vulnerable areas in the southern parts of Cameroon, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia; 4) this spatial differentiation of climate vulnerability may lead to future shifts in cocoa production within the region, with the opportunity of partially compensating losses and gains, but also the risk of local production expansion leading to new deforestation. We conclude that adaptation strategies for cocoa in West Africa need to focus at several levels, from the consideration of tolerance to high temperatures in cocoa breeding programs, the promotion of shade trees in cocoa farms, to policies incentivizing the intensification of cocoa production on existing farms where future climate conditions permit and the establishment of new farms in already deforested areas.
Near the end of 2013, an outbreak of Zaire ebolavirus (EBOV) began in Guinea, subsequently spreading to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone. As this epidemic grew, important public health questions emerged about how and why this outbreak was so different from previous episodes. This review provides a synthetic synopsis of the 2014-15 outbreak, with the aim of understanding its unprecedented spread. We present a summary of the history of previous epidemics, describe the structure and genetics of the ebolavirus, and review our current understanding of viral vectors and the latest treatment practices. We conclude with an analysis of the public health challenges epidemic responders faced and some of the lessons that could be applied to future outbreaks of Ebola or other viruses.
The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has caused substantial morbidity and mortality. The outbreak has also disrupted health care services, including childhood vaccinations, creating a second public health crisis. We project that after 6 to 18 months of disruptions, a large connected cluster of children unvaccinated for measles will accumulate across Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. This pool of susceptibility increases the expected size of a regional measles outbreak from 127,000 to 227,000 cases after 18 months, resulting in 2000 to 16,000 additional deaths (comparable to the numbers of Ebola deaths reported thus far). There is a clear path to avoiding outbreaks of childhood vaccine-preventable diseases once the threat of Ebola begins to recede: an aggressive regional vaccination campaign aimed at age groups left unprotected because of health care disruptions.
Response to the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa overwhelmed the healthcare systems of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, reducing access to health services for diagnosis and treatment for the major diseases that are endemic to the region: malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. To estimate the repercussions of the Ebola outbreak on the populations at risk for these diseases, we developed computational models for disease transmission and infection progression. We estimated that a 50% reduction in access to healthcare services during the Ebola outbreak exacerbated malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis mortality rates by additional death counts of 6,269 (2,564-12,407) in Guinea; 1,535 (522-2,8780) in Liberia; and 2,819 (844-4,844) in Sierra Leone. The 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak was catastrophic in these countries, and its indirect impact of increasing the mortality rates of other diseases was also substantial.
Events such as the 2014-2015 West Africa epidemic of Ebola virus disease highlight the importance of the capacity to detect and respond to public health threats. We describe capacity-building efforts during and after the Ebola epidemic in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea and public health progress that was made as a result of the Ebola response in 4 key areas: emergency response, laboratory capacity, surveillance, and workforce development. We further highlight ways in which capacity-building efforts such as those used in West Africa can be accelerated after a public health crisis to improve preparedness for future events.
Throughout the Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemic in West Africa, field laboratory testing for EVD has relied on complex, multi-step real-time reverse transcription PCR (RT-PCR) assays; an accurate sample-to-answer RT-PCR test would reduce time to results and potentially increase access to testing. We evaluated the performance of the Cepheid GeneXpert Ebola assay on clinical venipuncture whole blood (WB) and buccal swab (BS) specimens submitted to a field biocontainment laboratory in Sierra Leone for routine EVD testing by RT-PCR (“Trombley assay”).