Teaching young children about the importance of handwashing


How can science keep up with Ebola?

The Ebola virus, which uses fruit bats as a host, causes an acute illness that is often fatal in humans. It first emerged in 1976 in Africa, and outbreaks have occurred many times since.

In March 2014, the worst outbreak of Ebola to date began. At the time of writing, several countries in West Africa were involved, including Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Mali, and a small number of cases outside of Africa had been reported. By the end of October, nearly 5,000 people had died from this outbreak.

There is no vaccine or cure, but in the summer of 2014 some doctors began to give untested treatments to patients, prompting debate around whether the risks associated with a vaccine or treatment that hasn’t been tested in humans are more acceptable than the risk of death from a disease. In August, the World Health Organization stated that it was ethical to use untested drugs in this case, as long as the patients gave informed consent and the researchers collected and shared the results.

In August 2014, the Wellcome Trust (the charity that publishes ‘Big Picture’) and other research funders, including the UK government, made £6.5 million available for research into Ebola, including its prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The first vaccine trial using the funding began in Oxford in September 2014. Alongside this work, safety trials of a different vaccine were launched in the autumn of 2014, using healthy volunteers in Germany, Gabon, Kenya and Switzerland.

Lead image:

In Guinea, teaching young children about the importance of handwashing.

UNICEF Guinea/Flickr CC BY NC ND


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Immune System’ in December 2014.

Microbiology, Health, infection and disease, Medicine, Immunology
Immune System
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development