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Ebola fact and fiction

I recently moderated an international conference on infectious diseases in Istanbul. Amid the accounts of new strains of drug resistant bacteria, hopes of a cure for Hep C and even, one day, AIDS, there was a huge amount of hope in the conference hall. One topic, however, brought only gloom from the assembled experts: Ebola.

The picture which emerged of life in Liberia, in particular, was horrific: Fishermen rowing the bodies of victims out to a nearby island for burial then going fishing and selling their catch in the market.  Every day we’re warned that air travel means the scenario of the virus reaching Europe is not a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’.

I asked the experts the big question: If Ebola does land here, what are the chance of an epidemic? Low, they said, for a number of reasons.

One is called the R0, or R-nought. This is a measure of how contagious a virus is. Measles has an R0 of 18, mumps of 10, HIV of 4, and Ebola less than 2.  In addition, an Ebola-infected person is only infectious once they show symptoms. So if you travel back from Africa with a fellow passenger who has the virus but no symptoms yet, you’re safe (from them, at least).  Then there’s the way it’s transmitted. It requires close contact with an infected person’ bodily fluids…so you won’t catch it by just breathing the same air.

Time magazine has done a great piece on it:

http://tinyurl.com/l4dzthk

There’s a very good infographic from NPR:

http://tinyurl.com/m2dukbo