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Battling Ebola: Tracking the Virus; Current Ebola Outbreak Defies Earlier Models
Original article from: BU Today posted on August 6, 2014. By Susan Seligson
It’s a persistent cliché in films dramatizing deadly epidemics: that chart with the ominously multiplying paper-doll cutouts—first 2 cases, then 4, then 16…then an entire city under statistical siege. But for real-life disease trackers like Laura Forsberg White, associate professor of biostatistics at the BU School of Public Health, the monitoring and prediction of the course of calamities from avian influenza to Ebola rely on several important variables. And unlike diseases like cholera, which is caused by contaminated water, or diseases borne by mosquitos, Ebola virus disease is spread only through direct contact with body fluids, and only after an infected person begins to show symptoms, which can be as long as 21 days after exposure. When it is not confined to an isolated community, the difficulties of tracking Ebola, which in past outbreaks has been fatal in 60 to 90 percent of cases, are many. Identifying and isolating infected individuals in more densely populated areas—such as the Liberian who succumbed to Ebola in Lagos, Nigeria—present a different, more urgent set of challenges, says White.