Monday, October 20, 2014

Ebola news from campuses on the campaign trail and Discovery News

I ended Discovery News on high-fructose corn syrup with a half-hearted promise.
That would be after an Ebola update, if I'm up for it.  Stay tuned.  Even I don't know what I'm doing next!
I wasn't up for an Ebola update last week.  Instead of following up on Michigan prepares for Ebola after Dallas patient dies, I posted Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!  It paid off, as that entry got 354 page views in 24 hours.  Today, I don't have the excuse of a holiday to avoid an update, plus I have a fair amount of material.

I begin with Northern Illinois University, which asks Ebola: Should we worry?
NIU professor: Money spent to protect U.S. from Ebola better spent in Africa

So, is there reason for concern in this country? Yes and no, say two NIU biologists and a professor of public health.

"We maybe should worry," says Neil Blackstone, a professor in the NIU Department of Biological Sciences whose field of interest is evolutionary biology.

"We don't yet have a grasp of how it got to West Africa, and the concern is that it's evolving. It's evolving to be a better human parasite than it has been, perhaps less deadly but more transmittable," Blackstone adds. "If it infects 1,000 and kills them all, that's one thing. But if it infects 1 million people and kills 10 percent of them - 100,000 - that's another."

Barrie Bode, chair of the department, similarly urges caution.

“The likelihood that we could see a pandemic here is extremely remote, but vigilance is probably advisable right now. We do have a great deal more resources here and protocols that are in place. We can easily isolate the virus and prevent its spread here,” says Bode, who studies the biology of cancer.

“In these Third World countries, it’s much more difficult because they don’t have the resources,” he adds, “and viruses are notorious for mutating. Because the human-to-human transmission rate has been so high, it gives the virus more opportunity to evolve with each subsequent infection.”

Bode and Blackstone are quick to point out that neither is an expert in infectious disease or Ebola itself. They can offer scientifically literate interpretations of the emerging epidemic, however, and are following the news closely.

Sarah Geiger, assistant professor of public health in the NIU School of Nursing and Health Studies, agrees that the possibility of a widespread Ebola outbreak in the United States remains remote.

Geiger traces some of the anxiety to modern advances in outbreak containment. “Public Health Preparedness as a sub-field has grown substantially in terms of workforce as well as funding dollars since the events of Sept. 11,” she says, “so I think as a nation we’re more aware of the value of preparedness, which can unfortunately also lead to unreasonable fear.”

However, “I do think that parts of Africa will ultimately be devastated by the virus,” Geiger says.
As I wrote in the previous update...
Once again, the message from the authorities is "Don't Panic."  One of these days I should post the cover of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in response to these pronouncements.
One of these days has arrived.

Follow over the jump for more Ebola stories.

University of Florida: Researchers suggest Ebola virus may be creating its own immunity
October 14, 2014
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- The spread of Ebola in West Africa reveals two truths: The disease is swift, and it is devastating. Amid the chaos of deadly outbreak, researchers say another truth may exist: The disease might be quietly inoculating a significant portion of the population who are exposed to the virus but never succumb to it or show symptoms of being infected.

If those individuals have acquired an immunity to Ebola, the strategies for the intervention and treatment of the disease need to be reconsidered, according to a letter published online today in The Lancet, a leading medical journal. Juliet Pulliam, one of the letter’s authors and an assistant professor of biology at the University of Florida and UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, said, “If infection without disease protects people from future Ebola infections and illness, the epidemic should decline sooner than currently predicted and affect a smaller number of people.”

The authors, led by postdoctoral fellow Steve Bellan at The University of Texas at Austin, looked at studies done in the aftermath of an outbreak. One showed that 71 percent of people who had close contact with Ebola patients and tested positive for the virus did not get sick; another showed 46 percent of people who had close contact with Ebola patients and did not get sick had evidence of infection with the virus.
That's actually good news.

University of Georgia: Journalist from The Washington Post to speak about Ebola crisis
October 16, 2014
Athens, Ga. - Todd C. Frankel, a reporter with The Washington Post, will discuss the challenges reporters face in covering the emerging Ebola crisis during a talk Oct. 23 at 4 p.m. at the University of Georgia Chapel.

The talk, "Eyewitness to Ebola: A Journalist's Perspective," is free and open to the public.

The original speaker for this event was Liberian journalist Wade C.L. Williams, but her visit has been postponed.
That's it for the Ebola news from this week's Overnight News Digest.  Here are the stories from last week's.

Discovery News asks Can You Get Ebola From A Dog?

A woman in Spain is infected with Ebola, and now health officials have ordered that her dog is to be killed. Can dogs get Ebola, and can they transfer the virus to humans? Trace is here to talk about all of the recent, tragic ebola news.
That's a week-old report and has become too out-of-date.  Too bad, as it would have been a good lead for the update I didn't write last week.

Finally, the University of Michigan presents Video series featuring U-M experts puts Ebola outbreak in perspective.
ANN ARBOR—Now that Ebola has made its way to the United States and health officials are beginning to predict its global spread, University of Michigan School of Public Health experts discuss the disease in a series of videos that address how it is transmitted, the likelihood of spread in this country, its severity, and questions about vaccines, quarantine and isolation.
I'm going to have to come back to this one and post the videos.  They deserve a post of their own.

That's it for this week's update on Ebola, The Red Death.  Stay tuned for a delayed entertainment entry.

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