Health Care

1,000 New Ebola Cases Each Week: CDC Director on Numbers and Solutions

November 18, 2014

Above, watch the full video of Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Tom Frieden’s lecture and Q&A on Ebola.

With the initial shock of the Ebola outbreaks beginning to subside in the US, it can seem as if the deadly disease is no longer a serious issue. But according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director Dr. Tom Frieden, there were more Ebola cases in West Africa last month than all other recorded Ebola outbreaks over the last 40 years combined.

“It’s going to be a very long, hard fight,” Frieden said of the efforts to eliminate Ebola at a recent Aspen Institute Health, Medicine, and Society Program lecture on the epidemic. “Because every single one of those cases that’s emerging — and there are now many hundreds, probably more than 1,000 cases a week emerging in West Africa — every one of those cases needs the kind of response that it had for Lagos, Nigeria*.”

Given the highly infectious nature of the disease, the CDC is working on attacking Ebola from several angles. Read below for quotes from Frieden’s Ebola lecture and Q&A on some of the CDC’s efforts to fight it and prevent other future disease outbreaks.

On improved diagnostic techniques for Ebola:

“There are at least a half a dozen companies fairly far along…where we might be able to do in Africa [an Ebola] test in the field at the point of care and have results within half hour to an hour…That would make the kind of outbreak detection and control measures that we need [to have to control the outbreak] easier. I am guardedly optimistic that in a few months we may have something that works well enough to be used in the field.”

On a potential Ebola vaccine:

“I think if we had a vaccine, if it were effective, we would consider using it in at least two different contexts. One of them would be providing [it to] health care workers so that they would have a reduced risk of infection themselves. The second would be vaccinating where there are clusters, community-wide, to try to [abate] the cluster, stop the spread in individual areas.”

On the finding the “zoonotic” origin of Ebola:

“Are we really tracking where Ebola came from? This is one component of the global health security work… reducing the risk of spillover events from the animal kingdom to human populations and understanding the spread of those events…We still don’t know what the source is [for Ebola], so even if we stop this whole outbreak, it could happen again the next week if we don’t find out how it happened this time and stop it.”

On the dire consequences of drug resistance:

“Anti-microbial resistance is a time bomb and we’ve got to stop it before the routine infections that we all could get tomorrow are not easily treatable. We have got to preserve the antibiotics that we’ve been using for our kids and our grandkids, because the pipeline is not full of new drugs [that are] about to come out. We hope new drugs will come out, but unless we improve systems of using the antibiotic agents today, we could lose those as quickly as we have lost these.”

*The outbreak in Lagos was initiated by one sick traveler coming from Liberia in July 2014. CDC staff members went into Lagos and were able to identify 899 people who had been in contact with the sick traveler. The CDC staff set up an Ebola treatment unit, conducted 1,900 home visits, and monitored all the contacts except one person. That individual had traveled to a different city called Port Harcourt and started an Ebola cluster there. The CDC then traveled to Port Harcourt to conduct a similar intervention as it did in Lagos. Nigeria has recently been declared Ebola-free.