Ebola’s Friend: Lassa Fever

A large outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria has people worried. The area is observing an unusually high number of cases this year. As of February 18, there have been 913 cases and 73 deaths, compared to 733 cases and 71 deaths in all of 2017.

Like Ebola, Lassa fever is a hemorrhagic fever, though considered less serious than Ebola. According the WHO, Lassa fever usually starts with a fever and progresses to a headache, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In severe cases there may fluid in the lungs, and bleeding from the mouth, nose or other areas. In the most advanced stage of the disease shock, seizures, and coma may occur. In fatal cases, death usually occurs within 14 days of the onset. The drug Ribavirin, given via IV, is considered an effective treatment for Lassa fever if given within 6 days of the onset of symptoms.

What’s causing such a large outbreak? According to Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, director of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, a couple things may be at play: Improved detection, and that Nigeria’s growing population has brought people closer to the disease host: the infamous rat.

According to NPR:

“West Africa’s dry winters push rodents closer to people to scavenge for food. Virus-carrying rats may defecate or urinate in grains and other food; people can pick up the virus from contact with contaminated products. The virus can also spread between people via bodily fluids. And there are a lot of rats – which means there’s a lot of potential for outbreaks.”

The WHO is scaling up its response to the outbreak, and heath officials are urging people to keep food in sealed containers, as well as limit the proximity of garbage to homes.


CDC Downsizing Work in 39 Countries

The CDC is preparing to downsize its work in 39 countries starting in 2019. Much of the funding for the CDC’s work that helps developing countries detect and respond to outbreaks comes from a five year emergency package that Congress approved as a response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The money is set to run out in 2019, and there are currently no plans to replace the funding. If you’re thinking this sounds like the start of any number of scary outbreak movies you’d be right. According to the Atlantic:

“These changes would make the world—and the United States—more vulnerable to a pandemic. “We’ll leave the field open to microbes,” says Tom Frieden, a former CDC director who now heads an initiative called Resolve to Save Lives. “The surveillance systems will die, so we won’t know if something happens. The lab networks won’t be built, so if something happens, we won’t know what it is. We can’t be safe if the world isn’t safe. You can’t pull up the drawbridge and expect viruses not to travel.”

The CDC will narrow its focus to 10 “priority countries.” They are India, Thailand, Vietnam, Jordan, Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Guatemala. Countries where the CDC is scaling back “include some of the world’s hot spots for emerging infectious disease, such as China, Pakistan, Haiti, Rwanda and Congo.” According the The Washington Post:

“The risks of deadly and costly pandemic threats are higher than ever, especially in low- and middle-income countries with the weakest public health systems, experts say. A rapid response by a country can mean the difference between an isolated outbreak and a global catastrophe. In less than 36 hours, infectious disease and pathogens can travel from a remote village to major cities on any continent to become a global crisis.”

Let that thought fester in your head as you work on your bunker.

Lifelong Ebola Immunity?

Fourteen survivors from the first known Ebola outbreak in 1976 appear to have developed immunity against the disease, according to a study published this week in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. The study showed that the survivors blood contains antibodies that protect against, and in some cases even destroy, the Ebola virus.

An earlier study had shown that Ebola survivors have some immunity after 14 years, but this new study shows that protection lasts for at least 40 years. The Ebola virus is known for hanging around longer than anyone would like, frequently hibernating in eyes and semen. This “tenacity might explain why survivors continue to produce antibodies against it, long after they’ve finally cleared it from their bodies.”

All of the 14 people they studied still carry antibodies that recognize at least one of the Ebola virus’s proteins, and four had antibodies that could completely neutralize the virus. “Those are the kinds of responses you’d like to see in a vaccine—long-lasting and robust,” says Rimoin, “which means that these antibodies are of great value to science.”

Uganda Avoids Marburg Virus Disaster

Uganda has successfully contained an outbreak of Marburg virus, just weeks after it was first detected. Within 24 hours of being notified of the first confirmed death, the WHO deployed a rapid response team to the area:

Marburg is a highly fatal disease caused by a virus from the same family as that of Ebola. It can be transmitted from person to person by bodily fluids, and can cause bleeding, fever, vomiting, diarrhea and other symptoms.

This was the fifth outbreak of Marburg virus in a decade, and lessons have been learned from those outbreaks, as well as from the West African Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people.

Surveillance and contact tracing are critical in containing the virus:

“The response to the Marburg virus disease outbreak demonstrates how early alert and response, community engagement, strong surveillance and coordinated efforts can stop an outbreak in its tracks before it ravages communities,” said Dr Peter Salama, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.

A Way to Predict Ebola Outbreaks?

Researchers have identified a possible link between deforestation and the emergence of Ebola outbreaks. There is evidence that Ebola outbreaks are likely to occur within 2 years of forest loss.

This new research also suggests that preventing the loss of forests could reduce the likelihood of future outbreaks. “We have accumulated knowledge that removing forests causes problems not just to the functioning of the climate and ecosystems but also to humans, then we must see it as a threat to human livelihoods, health, security and everything else,” said Fa – a Senior Associate at CIFOR and a Professor of Human Development and Biodiversity at Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom.

When forests are destroyed, the animals that live in them are displaced. The Ebola virus is transmitted from wild animals, such as fruit bats or apes.

The forests should not be protected for the sake conservation alone but also for health reasons, according to Lutwama, a Virologist at the Uganda Virus Institute. “People should keep the forests,” he said.