Viewpoint: Ebola outbreak in West Africa

Professor Julian Hiscox comments on the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa:

“Ebola viruses represent some of the most deadly organisms on the planet. Zaire Ebola virus has case fatality rates approaching 90%. The disease is characterized by causing a lethal hemorrhagic fever, bloody diarrhoea and vomiting.

Currently there is a large and reportedly uncontrolled outbreak occurring in West Africa, with the disease now spreading through several countries. How Ebola virus is transmitted to humans and how a disease outbreak originates is not well understood.

In general, the virus is thought to be harboured by bats and then people come in to contact with infected material, such as by eating infected bush meat. As people come down with the disease the next stage of transmission is through person-to-person contact. This later type of transmission is normally through caring for infected family members.

There is no vaccine or anti-viral drug therapy either to prevent the disease or treat people once they are infected.  The best way of containing the virus remains through effective isolation and prevention of exposure. The UK has sent a team from Public Health England (PHE) to help with the international team responding to the emergency.

At Liverpool, we have recently been awarded a Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections (EZI), under the directorship of Professor Tom Solomon. This unit is a partnership with PHE and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine to understand the biology of this and other deadly pathogens.”

Professor Hiscox is Chair in Infection and Global Health, and the Assistant Director of the Health Protection Research Unit in EZI, and works closely with researchers at Public Health England on the biology of Ebola virus.


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