Global Surveillance of Ebola, Infectious Diseases Needs More TLC

The tools needed to combat future outbreaks of Ebola and other infectious diseases are available, but they need to be brought to the forefront, according to researchers from the University of Edinburgh.

The tools needed to combat future outbreaks of Ebola and other infectious diseases are available, but they need to be brought to the forefront, according to researchers from the University of Edinburgh.

In July 2015, a panel from the World Health Organization (WHO) expressed extreme concerns about the most recent Ebola outbreak and what could have been done better. Even though Liberia was recently declared transmission free and the CDC no longer requires screening travelers from the country, the threat isn’t over.

The most recent Ebola outbreak highlighted the need for improving global surveillance. Future outbreaks can take place, and while officials have learned a lot from the past, additional practices need to be implemented for preparation. In the analysis published in Science Translational Medicine, the team of infectious disease experts put emphasis on enhancing global response. They analyzed previous actions taken during the recent Ebola, swine flu, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreaks.

Did they find shortcomings? Yes. Is there a need for more technology? Yes. But are there promising indications to advance? That might be the most important yes.

“We cannot afford to wait for the next outbreak of infectious disease before putting effective systems in place to safeguard public health. Global surveillance would be costly, but in our highly connected world, early detection and rapid action against outbreaks are to everyone’s benefit,” Mark Woolhouse, a professor from the Centre for Immunity of the university, said in a news release.

Recent advances to treat Ebola include an inhalable vaccine and allergy medication. The authors specified that technologies needed to stop future deadly outbreaks — such as disease detecting approaches and real-time analysis tools – have already been developed. Now they need to be implemented to public health practices around the world.

“Real-time analysis of virus genomes such as Ebola is an important addition to our toolkit for investigating disease outbreaks. When combined with the date and location of the sample, we can determine how the virus spreads. These technologies can improve the management of an outbreak, thereby saving lives,” Paul Kellam, group leader of Virus Genomics at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Even in the wake of a devastating outbreak, there are beneficial lessons to be learned.