Via Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Ebola: A slow-motion atomic bomb. Excerpt:
We are in the midst of the worst Ebola outbreak in human history. After four decades of confining outbreaks of this disease to small areas, experts acknowledged in an October 9 New England Journal of Medicine article that “we were wrong” about the scope of the current situation. And the co-discoverer of Ebola, Peter Piot, told The Guardian on October 4 that until this year he thought that Ebola was never “much of a problem because the outbreaks were always brief and local.”
The present Ebola outbreak is like a slowly exploding atomic bomb in Africa: Each Ebola patient infects an average of 1.5 to 2.0 additional people. To shut down the Ebola epidemic in West Africa means getting that number—known as the “transmission rate” or reproductive number—to below 1.0. To give a sense of what those figures mean, at the present rate, the number of Ebola cases in West Africa doubles every two to three weeks.
And there are several complicating factors. For one thing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 60 percent of all Ebola patients remain undiagnosed in their communities.
For another, there is some evidence that organizations such as ISIS are interested in acquiring biological weapons; Ebola is listed as a bioterrorism agent by the CDC, and this uncontrolled epidemic is giving terrorists a virtually unlimited supply of Ebola virus that they would otherwise have had to produce with much greater effort, risk, and expense. And if terrorists do manage to expose a large number of people in public locations, Ebola becomes that much harder to control, because each infected patient caused by such a terrorist attack would be likely be unknown or untraceable, along with all of his or her contacts.
Despite the fact that news about Ebola seems to be receding from the front pages of Western newspapers and from the home pages of American news sites, the fight against Ebola is not over. While case counts have been declining recently in Liberia and reports suggest the epidemic is stable (slowly increasing) in Guinea, it is by no means under control and can flare up unpredictably due to a variety of circumstances. The outbreak is reported to be worsening in neighboring countries such as Sierra Leone.
So we need to act sooner rather than later, reduce the transmission rate to below 1.0 in West Africa, and shut down the Ebola epidemic. But to reduce the window of opportunity for transmission requires early diagnosis followed by rapid isolation and treatment. And therein lies the rub.