From Kurdish fighters recapturing the ISIS held town of Kobani, Syria to the deadly attacks on Israeli forces by Hezbollah militants on the Israel-Lebanon border and life returns to normal with Ebola cases down to single digits in Liberia to blizzard Juno hitting the U.S. East Coast, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.
The outbreak has so far claimed 8,795 lives across the affected West African region
Scientists at a French research institute say the Ebola virus has mutated and they are studying whether it may have become more contagious.
Researchers at the Institut Pasteur are analyzing hundreds of blood samples from Guinean Ebola patients in an effort to determine if the new variation poses a higher risk of transmission, according to the BBC.
“We’ve now seen several cases that don’t have any symptoms at all, asymptomatic cases,” said human geneticist Dr. Anavaj Sakuntabhai. “These people may be the people who can spread the virus better, but we still don’t know that yet. A virus can change itself to less deadly, but more contagious and that’s something we are afraid of.”
Although virus mutations are common, researchers are concerned that Ebola could eventually morph into an airborne disease if given enough time.
However, there is no evidence to suggest this has happened yet, and the virus is still spread only via direct contact with an infected person.
Institut Pasteur, which first pinpointed the current Ebola outbreak last March, is hoping that two vaccines they are developing will reach human trials by the end of the year.
Current figures indicate 8,795 of some 22,000 cases across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — around 40% — have been fatal.
New Englanders savaged by a blizzard packing knee-high snowfall and hurricane-force winds began digging out as New Yorkers and others spared its full fury questioned whether forecasts were overblown
The sun is the biggest culprit in causing skin cancer, but there’s a beverage that may thwart some of the tumor-causing effects of ultraviolet rays
A new analysis by the Center for Public Integrity reveals that the top 50 political contributors spent more than $440 million in 2014
The music legend is producing the pilot of a musical drama to be named Virtuoso, set in 18th century Vienna. True Blood creator Alan Ball is set to write and direct the show, which follows a class of young musical prodigies at the Academy of Musical Excellence
A larger-than-expected bump in holiday iPhone sales propelled Apple to record sales and the best quarterly earnings of any company ever. The tech giant racked up $74.6 billion in revenue last quarter, a 29.5% gain on the same period a year before
Several Israelis soldier were injured, possibly killed, when anti-tank missiles were fired at an Israeli convoy on the Golan Heights from Lebanon on Wednesday. Israel retaliated by firing dozens of artillery shells into Lebanon and convened a emergency security meeting
Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig have reportedly been cast in the long-awaited, all-female reboot of the beloved ’80s classic, alongside Saturday Night Live‘s Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon. Paul Feig, who directed Bridesmaids, will helm the new movie
Funding for a range of discretionary grant programs has fallen 40% in Republican states compared to a drop of only 25% in swing states or states that tend to support the Democrats, according to new research
The World Health Organization appointed Botswana’s Dr. Matshidiso Moeti to head its Africa region on Tuesday. The physician is tasked with revamping the organization’s operations on the continent in the wake of the Ebola outbreak
Astronomers have discovered an ancient solar system very similar to our own that dates back to the “dawn of the galaxy.” Using NASA’s Kepler telescope, a team of international scientists found a star and five orbiting planets that are similar in size to Earth
Jordan’s information minister says his government is set to swap an Iraqi woman held in Jordan for a Jordanian pilot captured by extremists from the Islamic State group — but made no mention of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, who is also being held by ISIS
Bill Gates, whose charitable Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation disburses nearly $4 billion worldwide, has cautioned that a technology-based action plan is needed to guard against future pandemics similar to how we “prepare ourselves for war”
The Microsoft boss warns the Ebola crisis was just the beginning
Bill Gates, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, has cautioned that a technology-based action plan is needed to guard against future pandemics similar to how we “prepare ourselves for war.”
Gates, whose charitable Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation disburses nearly $4 billion worldwide, urged the international community to apply lessons learned from the Ebola crisis to develop a plan for future outbreaks. One strategy would be to create volunteer teams able to respond quickly to a public health emergency, the Agence-France Presse reported.
“A more difficult pathogen [than Ebola] could come along, a form of flu, a form of SARS or some type of virus that we haven’t seen before,” Gates told the AFP.
“We don’t know it will happen but it’s a high enough chance that one of the lessons of Ebola should be to ask ourselves: are we as ready for that as we should be? A good comparison is that we prepare ourselves for war — we have planes and training and we practise.”
Gates outlined his fears in a speech in Berlin for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation alliance, which delivers vaccines to the Global South. His warning comes on the heels of a World Bank statement that the globe is “dangerously unprepared” for another public health emergency similar to the Ebola outbreak.
“We are on the right track," said Brice de la Vingne, the group's director of operations
The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), says it’s seeing declines in new cases of Ebola in its centers in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
There are just over 50 patients currently in MSF’s Ebola treatment centers across the three countries, the organization announced on Monday.
“This decline is an opportunity to focus efforts on addressing the serious weaknesses that remain in the response,” Brice de la Vingne, MSF director of operations said in a statement. “We are on the right track, but reaching zero cases will be difficult unless significant improvements are made in alerting new cases and tracing those who have been in contact with them.”
There is still work to do on that score; in Guinea and Liberia only half of the new cases are people who are known contacts of people with Ebola. Since just a single case can spur an outbreak, more contact tracing is needed.
In Sierra Leone, incidences of Ebola have dropped to their lowest levels since August, though there are still hot zones like the country’s capital of Freetown. Guinea’s caseloads are also dropping, but more cases are coming from regions that were previously thought to be leveling out. Liberia has experienced some of the greatest drops out of all three countries. MSF says that on Jan. 17, there were no Ebola cases at the organization’s ELWA 3 Ebola management center in the capital city of Monrovia, and currently there are only two patients.
The latest case numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO) show cases have reached 21,724 with 8,641 deaths.
"The Ebola outbreak revealed some inadequacies and shortcomings"
The head of the UN’s global health agency has laid out a set of reforms to better and more quickly fight disease outbreaks, in a frank acknowledgement that the organization struggled to confront the scale of the 2014 Ebola outbreak that killed more than 8,600 people.
“This was West Africa’s first experience with the virus, and it delivered some horrific shocks and surprises,” said World Health Organization (WHO) director General Margaret Chan in a speech on Sunday. “The world, including WHO, was too slow to see what was unfolding before us.”
The needed changes, she said, include country-specific emergency workforces trained with “military precision”; a strengthened team of epidemiologists for detecting disease and a network of other providers to allow responders to reach “surge capacity.”
“The Ebola outbreak revealed some inadequacies and shortcomings in this organization’s administrative, managerial, and technical infrastructures,” she said, calling for a “dedicated contingency fund to support rapid responses to outbreaks and emergencies.”
The remarks came as the WHO’s executive board prepared to meet in Geneva to discuss reform proposals that many in the international community consider to be overdue. The response to Ebola by the UN’s health agency was seen by many as slow and ineffectual.
Indeed, Sunday’s speech did not mark the first time Chan acknowledged her organization’s shortcomings. In October, she told TIME that “the scale of the response did not match the scale of the outbreak.”
Two vaccines will start trials in February
The long-awaited vaccine for Ebola is heading to clinical trials in Liberia.
Two vaccines, with the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) support, will start efficacy testing in Liberia in the beginning of February.
The NIH is launching the trial in collaboration with the Liberian Ministry of Health. The trial will test two vaccines against a placebo. People in Liberia who agree to participate in the trial will be split evenly into three groups. Two groups will test separate vaccines and the third group will be given a placebo. The trial will take place in Montserrado County, which includes the capital Monrovia, one of the country’s hardest-hit regions.
The vaccines have already undergone early safety trials at various sites in the U.S., Europe, and in parts of Africa. “There were no significant safety concerns and [the vaccine] induced the type of response that was quite comparable to the animal response of the monkeys,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Prior trials in monkeys had shown the vaccine made the animals immune to the virus.
Initially the target date for the vaccine trial in West Africa had been end of January, but some logistics still need to be worked out. Fauci told TIME that he can say with almost certainty that the trials will indeed launch in early February. “There are a couple of minor issues that we are just ironing out with regard to the protocol with the FDA,” says Fauci. “Nothing that’s a show stopper.”
One of the two vaccines being tested is a vaccine developed and tested by the NIH and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and the other vaccine is coming from biotech company NewLink Genetics and the pharmaceutical company Merck.
When the trial starts, the vaccines will initially be given to 600 people to collect additional data on the vaccine’s safety. If all goes well, the second part of the trial will launch with 27,000 people.
But the World Health Organization says vigilance is imperative to prevent reinfection in seemingly eradicated areas
The fight against Ebola has reached a “turning point,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO), as the three West African countries hit hardest by the deadly virus — Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — see a precipitous drop in the number of new cases.
Liberia, which reported almost 9,000 cases since the deadly outbreak began in 2013, only detected eight new cases last week, reports the BBC. On some days, no new cases materialize at all, a heartening sign in a country where doctors once saw 509 new cases weekly at their peak.
“I would have identified the turning point as the beginning of the decline, first in Liberia and then later in Sierra Leone and Guinea,” Dr. Christopher Dye, the director of Ebola strategy for the WHO director general, told the BBC. “The incidence is pretty clearly going down in all three countries now.”
In Sierra Leona, where the health crisis once saw 748 cases flooding into hospitals each week, numbers are also stabilizing. The story is similar in Guinea, where the Ebola crisis reached a crescendo at 292 cases per week late last year.
Worldwide, Ebola has killed nearly 8,700 people and infected over 20,000 in one of the largest public health emergencies in recent memory.
Still, health officials at the WHO are exercising caution and warning that Ebola can reappear if risks are not properly mitigated. “Contact tracing,” or detecting everyone who ever came into contact with an Ebola-afflicted patient, is crucial to thwart future infection. Even one case cropping up can re-infect seemingly eradicated areas.
They had gone to a local village to spray insecticides
Three priests from a church in Guinea were physically assaulted while visiting the village of Kabac on Tuesday, as locals suspected they were health workers who would expose inhabitants to the Ebola virus.
The villagers beat up the priests, who had planned to spray insecticide around the area, the BBC reported. They also vandalized the nearby town council building, setting fire to it after burning the priests’ car.
Guinea, one of the three West African countries worst affected by the Ebola outbreak, has lost nearly 2,000 people to the disease. The nation’s schools reopened earlier this week following a five-month break, soon after the U.N. said the number of cases nationwide had fallen to its lowest weekly total since August.
The country has gone 42 days without reporting a new case
Mali is officially Ebola-free after going 42 days without reporting a new case, according to the World Health Organization.
The country’s Health Minister Ousmane Kone made an announcement during a national broadcast on Sunday night.
During his speech, Kone heaped praise on the country’s health workers and Malian authorities for “weeks of intense work” that led to the result, according to Agence France-Presse.
Mali recorded its first Ebola case in October after a 2-year-old contracted the deadly virus. Following the incident, the country launched a massive eradication campaign.
In total, the disease only infected eight people in the country, but six of them were killed by it, according to statistics compiled by the WHO.
More than 8,400 people have succumbed to the deadly virus in West Africa.