TIME ebola

The Ebola Virus Is Mutating, Say Scientists

Guinea West Africa Ebola
A health care worker, right, takes the temperatures of school children for signs of the Ebola virus before they enter their school in the city of Conakry, Guinea, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015 Youssouf Bah—AP

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.

[BBC]

TIME ebola

Doctors Without Borders Sees Fewer New Ebola Cases

SWITZERLAND-HEALTH-EBOLA-REDCROSS-AID-TRAINING
Health workers of the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) and medical charity Doctors Without Borders take part in a pre-deployment training for staff heading to Ebola areas on Oct. 29, 2014 in Geneva. Fabrice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images

“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.

MORE: TIME Person of the Year: Ebola Fighters

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.

TIME Photojournalism Links

Photojournalism Daily: Jan. 5, 2015

A compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Daniel Berehulak‘s stunning work from Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone for a comprehensive New York Times account that charts the devastating resurgence of Ebola in West Africa last year. One of the photographs captures the Guinean village where a one-year-old boy, considered to be Patient Zero of the outbreak, died just over a year ago. It’s both painterly yet haunting, as it captures the birth place of a health crisis that has led to thousands of deaths.

Daniel Berehulak: How Ebola Roared Back (The New York Times) See also the slideshow: Ebola Ravages Economies in West Africa

Ross McDonnell: Notes from Underground (TIME LightBox) Pictures show civilians in eastern Ukraine sheltering in Cold War era bunkers

Brendan Hoffman (BBC Radio 4 World at One) Hoffman about his work in Ukraine and on the MH17 crash site

Toward A New Documentary Expression (Aperture) Stephen Mayes reflects on documentary photography’s shifting terrain

PhotoBooks 2014 (Vogue Italia) The magazine asked photo editors, artists, photographers and photography experts to choose the photobooks that defined the year

TIME ebola

Scottish Ebola Patient Flown to London

Colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of the Ebola virus.
Getty Images

Patient has been isolated and is receiving treatment

A health worker who recently returned from Sierra Leone has been flown to London after being diagnosed with Ebola in Glasgow.

The female aid worker, named by local media as Pauline Cafferkey, arrived late Sunday night to Glasgow Airport on a British Airways flight, having traveled from Sierra Leone to Casablanca and London before reaching Scotland. NHS Scotland, the country’s health care system, said in a statement it has rolled out its infectious disease protocol.

“Scotland has been preparing for this possibility from the beginning of the outbreak in West Africa and I am confident that we are well prepared,” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in the statement. “We have the robust procedures in place to identify cases rapidly. Our health service also has the expertise and facilities to ensure that confirmed Ebola cases such as this are contained and isolated effectively minimising any potential spread of the disease.”

The patient has been isolated and is receiving care in the Brownlee Unit for Infectious Diseases of Gartnavel Hospital. Per U.K. and Scottish protocol, the woman was transferred to another high-level isolation unit at London’s Royal Free hospital.

TIME ebola

Ebola Cases Reach Over 20,000

Health workers push a gurney with a dead body at a Red Cross facility in the town of Koidu, Kono district Eastern Sierra Leone on Dec. 19, 2014.
Health workers push a gurney with a dead body at a Red Cross facility in the town of Koidu, Kono district Eastern Sierra Leone on Dec. 19, 2014. Baz Ratner—Reuters

There's close to 400 new cases in just four days

Cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea have reached over 20,000.

New numbers released from the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday show Ebola has infected 20,081 people and killed 7,842. That’s nearly 400 new cases of the disease in just four days.

Despite missions launched by countries and international groups like the United States and United Nations in the last few months, the disease continues to spread. Sierra Leone has passed Liberia in number of cases. Many are anxiously awaiting a vaccine that’s been estimated to become available in the early part of the new year and researchers are also working on developing drugs to treat Ebola.

Some experts believe the epidemic will last a full second year.

MORE: TIME Person of the Year: Ebola Fighters

TIME Infectious Disease

Christmas Aside, Sierra Leone Declares Five-Day Lockdown in Ebola-Hit North

Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone
A soldier inspects a woman with an infrared thermometer for signs of fever, one of the symptoms of Ebola, at a check point in Nikabo, a village in Kenema, Sierra Leone on August 27, 2014. Mohammed Elshamy—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Christmas celebrations are excepted

The northern parts of Sierra Leone will be locked down for five days as a measure to contain the Ebola epidemic, with Christmas celebrations being the only exception.

“Muslims and Christians are not allowed to hold services in mosques and churches throughout the lockdown except for Christians on Christmas Day (Thursday),” Alie Kamara, resident minister for the Northern Region, told Agence France-Presse.

Shops and markets will be closed and “no unauthorised vehicles or motorcycle taxis” will be allowed to circulate “except those officially assigned to Ebola-related assignment,” said Kamara.

Sierra Leone recently overtook Liberia as the country with the highest number of Ebola infections, in an epidemic that has killed more than 7,500 people, mainly in west Africa.

Sierra Leone Deputy Communication Minister Theo Nicol said that the lockdown “is meant for us to get an accurate picture of the situation,” adding: “Other districts will carry on with their own individual lockdown after this if they deemed it necessary.”

Six of the country’s 14 departments have restrictions on the movement of people, and the government has announced a restriction on large Christmas and New Year gatherings.

[AFP]

TIME ebola

Expert: Ebola Outbreak Will Probably Last All of Next Year

Professor Peter Piot still says he is encouraged by the progress made in Sierra Leone, where he believes the epidemic will soon peak Baz Ratner—Reuters

Professor Peter Piot still says he is encouraged by the progress made in Sierra Leone

Correction appended: Dec. 24, 2014, 7:00 a.m. E.T.

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is likely to continue through 2015, says Professor Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“We need to be ready for a long effort, a sustained effort [for] probably the rest of 2015,” he told the BBC after returning from Sierra Leone.

Piot, who was one of the scientists who discovered Ebola in 1976, said he was impressed by the progress he had seen in the country, where mortality rates have fallen to as low as one in three.

“You don’t see any longer the scenes where people are dying in the streets,” he said.

But although the outbreak has peaked in Liberia and probably will do so in Sierra Leone too in the coming few weeks, the epidemic could have a “very long tail and a bumpy tail.”

“The Ebola epidemic is still very much there,” he said. “People are still dying, new cases are being detected.”

[BBC]

The previous version of this article identified Peter Piot as the director of the World Health Organization. He is the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

TIME U.K.

Ebola Survivor To Deliver On-Air Christmas Message

Review of the Year 2014
British Ebola survivor William Pooley during a press conference at the Royal Free Hospital in north London, Dec. 13, 2014. Andrew Matthews—PA Wire/AP

William Pooley will appear on British television on Christmas Day

As Ebola continues to devastate entire regions in West Africa, one survivor of the infectious disease is preparing to deliver a plea for help on Christmas Day.

William Pooley, a British nurse who contracted the disease this summer in Sierra Leone, has been asked to deliver a special Christmas message on a British television network. Pooley, who overcame the disease after he was air-lifted back to the U.K. for treatment, has since returned to continue working in Sierra Leone, helping those stricken with Ebola.

According to the BBC, Pooley will say in his message that “Ebola is unlike any disease I’ve ever witnessed. Nothing can prepare you for the effect it has on the infected, on their families and on their communities.”

“I don’t want to make you feel guilty, but I would like you to think just for a few minutes about what you could do to help,” he’s expected to continue. “This is a global problem and it will take the world to fix it. What a wonderful Christmas present that would be.”

The message will be aired on the British network Channel 4, which has aired its own Christmas speech as an alternative to Queen Elizabeth II’s own annual Christmas Day speech since 1993.

Pooley has spoken out in the past about other efforts to bring awareness to the Ebola crisis many in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea are facing, most notably by calling out Band Aid 30’s superstar charity single “cringeworthy.”

[BBC]

TIME ebola

Ebola-Stricken Families to Receive Cash Payments

Hawa Musa with her mother and children. Of 25 people living in the house, 17 have died from ebola, including her husband.
Hawa Musa (blue) with her mother and children. Musa used to rent rooms for income, but no one wants to rent her rooms anymore. She previously had 25 people living in her house, but 17 died of Ebola including her husband and a few of her children. She's taken in 10 more kids. Carly Learson—Carly Learson / UNDP

In 2015, the three Ebola-affected countries will start offering cash payments for families hit by Ebola, as well as survivors having trouble re-acclimating to society out of stigma for the disease.

Every aspect of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone’s societies have taken a hit from Ebola, and the disease has shocked what were once fragile but growing economies. Public spaces are now forbidden, so markets are empty, tourists are no longer traveling into the countries and international companies have largely pulled out, including large industries like mining. The World Bank estimates the aftershock of Ebola to already weakened economies will be “devastating.”

“We are seeing a backwards slide of development of about 10 years,” says Boaz Paldi, chief of media and advocacy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “The outlook is not good. We are fearful for these countries.” That’s why instead of waiting for caseloads to reach manageable numbers, the three countries, with the help of UNDP and other partners, are laying the groundwork now for rebuilding the damaged economies. One of the first major initiatives to be rolled out in the new year are cash transfers and payments to families who no longer have breadwinners and survivors out of work. Many women in the Ebola-affected countries have taken in orphaned children of their family members or neighbors, despite having no steady income.

Dudu Kromah's husband died recently from ebola. She is looking after ten children, many of them orphans including a 3-month-old baby.
Dudu Kromah’s husband died from Ebola. She is looking after ten children, many of them orphans including a 3-month-old baby. She has no income. Carly Learson—Carly Learson / UNDP

According to UNDP leaders, plans for the payment process are still being refined. Lists of names of affected families and survivors are being collected and coordinated for small pilot programs, starting early next year, to test the effectiveness of the payments in preparation for widespread efforts. UNDP has calculated that around $50 will keep a family of five going in the three countries with essential needs for one month, with some variations by country. The group is anticipating making monthly payments to 150-200,000 people in each of the countries.

Ultimately, the payment program may develop into a cash-for-work model, with payments in exchange for work rebuilding communities in an effort to inject cash into the local economy and enable people to earn a living.

Ideas for how to get youth involved are also being considered. In Sierra Leone, Ruby Sandhu-Rojon, the deputy director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa, spoke to young people concerned that since residents can no longer go to their local markets, they are unable to buy the food they need. “So why not start a delivery company to have food delivered to the different communities? How can we provide the start-up capital for young people who want to initiative those types of activities?” says Sandhu-Rojon.

The three countries and the U.N., which launched the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) earlier this year, are also looking to the private sector. On Dec. 11 the U.N. held a U.N.-Business Collaboration for Global Ebola Response meeting as a way to get the private sector involved in both the response and recovery. A panel of high-level representatives from U.N. Missions in the affected countries, the U.S., U.K., and France put out a call for help from companies in areas major like logistics. Ultimately, the greatest plea was for companies to return to the countries and invest.

Sadly, all three countries were experiencing high growth rates before the start of Ebola, after coming out of conflicts like civil war. Sierra Leone had only recently launched its “Agenda for Prosperity,” a high-level initiative to become a middle-income country by 2035. High growth rates could largely be attributed to extractive industries like mining, which have now largely decreased their production or shut down, causing a government shortfall in revenue and massive loss of employment. Remaining national resources have been reallocated to the Ebola fight.

“It’s very disheartening, because all three of these countries were on their way up,” says Sandhu-Rojon.

The hope is cash payments will be a boost to help people get by. But increasingly more support and funding will be needed from the international community and private sector to get the countries back on their feet. Whether the countries will make it back to pre-Ebola growth may be a much greater, and longer battle.

TIME ebola

5 Million Kids Aren’t in School Because of Ebola

Schools closed in Sierra Leone after Ebola outbreak
A classroom of a school stands abandoned on Aug. 25, 2014 in Kenema, Sierra Leone. Schools closed and villages quarantined after dozens of its congregation died with Ebola symptoms. Mohammed Elshamy—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Children from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are still out of school. Here's what's being done

Public schools in Guinea have been closed since March. Schools in Sierra Leone and Liberia never opened after the summer holiday. All told, the children’s rights and emergency relief group UNICEF estimates that 5 million children ages 3 to 17 are out of school due to Ebola.

“This Ebola crisis has been predominantly seen as a health crisis but its implications go way beyond health,” says Sayo Aoki, an education specialist for UNICEF working in the affected countries. “It’s time we start looking at it from other perspectives, and education is part of that.”

Some schools were closed out of fear the disease could spread in large gatherings while others had no access to water, making handwashing impossible. But the longer a child stays out of school, the less likely it is he or she will return—which is why UNICEF is working closely with the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health to come up with protocols necessary to implement in order to let children back into the classrooms. The draft—which calls for measures like Ebola screenings, hygiene requirements and a plan in the event a suspected case—is currently being reviewed by experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. and the World Health Organization.

MORE: TIME’s Person of the Year: Ebola Fighters

In the meantime, UNICEF and partner NGOs have trained out-of-work teachers to act as “social mobilizers,” going door to door to spread messages about how to identify Ebola and prevent its spread. UNICEF and partners are also using the radio programs to offer long-distance learning while kids are kept at home. “We are trying to make [the radio shows] simple and more interesting so children will get some learning,” says Aoki. “If they listen to it at a certain time of the day during the week, it gives them a routine they’ve lost from not going to school. It brings them a sense of normalcy, some sort of stability and hope.”

Stability has been largely destroyed for many children living in Ebola-affected countries. Many have seen family members, friends and neighbors get infected, and many have become orphans as well. Ebola has also changed social mores. “Nobody shakes hands in public,” says Aoki. “It has put a lot of stress on children. There’s no cuddling, no hugging, no kissing. The simple joys of life have been taken away.”

Even before Ebola, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia were economically troubled countries still emerging from conflict and civil war. Guinea and Liberia were in the process of increasing their school attendance numbers—Guinea was at 58% and Liberia was at 34%—and experts worry that Ebola has set progress back. School closures, including private schools, are also a bad economic indicator. Jeff Trudeau, the director of The American International School of Monrovia (AISM) told TIME in August that he lost more than half his expected students for the 2014 school year, many of whom were children of foreign families who moved to the region for jobs in Liberia’s burgeoning business sector. That school’s earliest possible start date is January and for others, there appear to be “moving” deadlines for reopening. Guinea is aiming for January while Liberia and Sierra Leone are hoping for March.

But all the countries will have to patiently wait until their caseloads are under control, since a premature opening may only add fuel to the fire.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser