Ebola response offers public health lessons

Panic over Ebola in the United States has largely subsided in recent months, but that period offers numerous lessons for public health agencies in America, according to a Health Affairs blog post.

Responding to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa fell largely to volunteer organizations, writes George Annas of Boston University School of Medicine and School of Law. One such organization, Doctors Without Borders, criticized the World Health Organization (WHO) for its slow recognition and response to the outbreak.

The misdiagnosis--and subsequent death--of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian national who was the first person to have Ebola in America, made matters worse, Annas writes. It put the focus on the U.S. rather than the epicenter of the outbreak, he says. It also put the response in the hands of American public health agencies, which post-9/11 have been reframed with a counterterrorism focus. As a result, he writes, it  "has deformed our public health agencies and made them less able to prevent and respond to new infectious diseases. This is a tragedy for everyone."

In the wake of the 2014 Ebola response, Annas writes, public health officials must address future crises or potential crises in a way that minimizes fear and fosters public trust. They must also put  their trust in the public as well, which he contrasts with cases such as that of Kaci Hickox, the nurse who was forcibly quarantined after returning from Sierra Leone despite displaying no symptoms.

Meanwhile, the virus' death toll in West Africa has reached at least 8,981, according to the WHO, and at least 22,495 people infected. However, health officials are cautiously optimistic about a newly-developed vaccine currently being tested, although declining African Ebola rates will make it difficult to tell if it is effective, the Associated Press reports.

And antibodies from the blood of survivors of the disease could potentially be used to develop a universal flu vaccine, according to Emory Health Sciences. "Our goal is to have a panel of fully human monoclonal antibodies with activity against Ebola," says Rafi Ahmed, Ph.D., director of the Emory Vaccine Center. "Our preliminary data indicates that the immune systems of patients with Ebola virus disease were able to actively produce antibodies."

To learn more:
- here's the blog post
- read the WHO statistics
- check out the AP article
- here's the Emory Health Sciences announcement