On March 25, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that 86 suspected cases of Ebola had been reported to the World Health Organization across four southeastern districts in Guinea. At that time, cases were also being investigated in Liberia and Sierra Leone. By April 1, Liberia was reporting eight suspected cases and two deaths. On May 26, a case of Ebola was confirmed in Sierra Leone. Since then, the disease has continued to spread across the region. Guinea has had the highest suspected death toll so far, with 314 fatal cases as of July 20.
Since March, the latest Ebola outbreak has already spread to three neighboring countries CDC
Have there been Ebola outbreaks of this size before?
Ebola can infect humans and animals, and spreads through bodily fluids. Scientists believe that fruit bats are the natural carriers of the virus. According to the World Health Organization, African pig farms often play host to bats, allowing the disease to spread from the bats to pork. Eating "bushmeat"—or the meat from wild animals, such as gorillas, monkeys, or bats—can put you at risk for exposure. Recently, the government of the Cote d'Ivoire (otherwise known as Ivory Coast)—which borders two of the countries enduing the outbreak—prohibited the sale of bush meat. But the government does not have the means to enforce the ban, and it's still easy to come by. Funerals for victims of Ebola can also be a source of transmission, with friends and family members potentially coming into contact with the blood and other fluids of the deceased. (Within some African cultures, mourners hug and kiss the bodies, making exposure even more likely.)
A monkey head roasts at a Gabon market. Butchering and eating wild primates is one way that Ebola has spread in Africa. David Maitland/Zuma Press
How fatal is Ebola?
One of the problems with treating the virus is that in its earliest stages it mimics a number of other diseases endemic to Africa. Usually within eight to 10 days of infection, according to the CDC, patients experience a fever, a headache, and muscle fatigue. Some people get better, but most—up to 90 percent—get worse. In a victim's last days, he or she will begin to hemorrhage blood, internally and externally, as the disease lays waste to internal organs. There are no drugs approved for treating Ebola. For the infected, the only hope is that the virus will pass. According to the CDC, the only treatments available fall under the category of "supportive therapy"—providing patients with water, maintaining blood pressure, and treating for complicating infections—with the hope that a patient's immune system can fight off the virus. Lab researchers have had some luck using drug cocktails to block the disease in animals shortly after exposure, but they haven't yet tested these treatments on humans.
How easily is Ebola transmitted?
Doctors Without Borders calls Ebola "highly infectious," and medical staff treating patients must wear full protective suits to avoid contracting the disease themselves. The Ebola virus is so contagious that researchers can only work with it in specially outfitted labs that boast the highest levels of biocontainment. However, David Heymann, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, tells CNN that Ebola can be controlled when the right precautions are taken: "It's not rocket science to control these outbreaks but instead basic epidemiology: infection control, hygiene practices, contact-tracing, and safe burial practices."
Is there a vaccine?
There's no vaccine for Ebola. What is so vexing for researchers is that the virus keeps emerging in new forms. Scientists can't predict what form the virus will take when it strikes next; a vaccine would have to inoculate a person against all of the variants. But Ebola is adaptive and hard to pin down. Even if a vaccine were developed, researchers worry the virus could adapt and overcome it.
Why are health workers having trouble containing the virus this time?
Marc Poncin, the emergency coordinator in Guinea for Doctors Without Borders, told the New York Times that "we're not stopping the epidemic." According to health officials, locals are fearful of aid workers and are threatening violence against them to keep them from entering communities and monitoring the virus, providing supportive therapy, and isolating patients. This has led to difficulties in placing victims into quarantine. In Sierra Leone, for example, the family of a woman who had tested positive for Ebola removed her from the hospital so she could be treated using traditional medicine. The woman has since died.
Health workers in Sierra Leone at a clinic for Ebola patients Youssouf Bah/AP
How dangerous would Ebola be if it arrived in the United States?
Not as dangerous. Dr. Jonathan Epstein, a veterinary epidemiologist and Ebola expert with EcoHealth Alliance, recently told Mother Jones that infections likely wouldn't be widespread in the United States, because it has better systems in place for controlling outbreaks.
UPDATE 1, Thursday,July 31: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has upgraded its alert level for countries afflicted by the Ebola outbreak, urging all US residents to "avoid nonessential travel" to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Additionally, the condition of an American, Nancy Writebol, who contracted the disease in Liberia, is reportedly worsening. According to the Christian mission organization she is serving with, she is receiving an experimental drug treatment.
UPDATE 2, Monday,August 4: A desperate bid to save the lives of two American missionary workers infected with Ebola in Liberia may have worked, according to CNN. Both patients' conditions improved "significantly" after receiving the drug, according to CNN. Now one is at Emory Hospital in Atlanta and the other is expected to arrive to Atlanta tomorrow. The treatment was developed by the San Diego-based pharmaceutical company Mapp Bio. Mapp Bio was one of three pharmaceutical companies awarded a $28 million grant in March from the National Institutes of Health to develop a drug cocktail to combat Ebola.
The missionaries may not be the only Ebola patients in the United States. New York's Mount Sinai Hospital announced today that it was testing one of its own patients for the virus. The patient, who had earlier traveled to one of the countries currently enduring the outbreak, came to the emergency room early today with a fever and intestinal problems— symptoms associated with Ebola. He is now being quarantined at Mount Sinai. The White House also announced today that it was sending more CDC experts to the region.
Over the last decade, the United States has provided hundreds of thousands of small arms—including machine guns, grenade launchers, and rifles—to the Afghan security forces. But the US and its Afghan counterparts are doing an inadequate job of tracking these weapons, government investigators claim, increasing the likelihood that they could wind up in the hands of the resurgent Taliban, which has recently made key military advances that are threatening Afghanistan's fragile stability.
In 2010, following reports that the US military was losing track of the guns it was providing to Afghan troops, Congress required the Defense Department to register and monitor all weapons given to the Afghan National Security Forces, which includes the army and police. But the primary US databases that track these arms aren't up to the task; they don't communicate with each other and are riddled with incomplete information, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reports. Auditors examined serial numbers recorded in one database and found that 203,888 weapons—or 43 percent—had missing information or duplicate numbers. Many entries that included serial numbers lacked shipping or receiving dates.
Jenny Lewis, the musician best-known for fronting Rilo Kiley and singing in the Postal Service, has a packed schedule at the Governors Ball Music Festival in New York City, but she never gives off the impression that she's in a rush. She homes in on every person she's introduced to with genuine enthusiasm. Lewis is tiny, with long red hair, a mega-watt smile, and a tie-dyed blazer inspired by, "Cosmos, man!"—the television show beloved by geeks that helped inspire her new solo album, The Voyager, out on July 29 (stream it here.)
The Voyager is a frank examination of womanhood, buried under a layer of sugary alt-pop. Lewis is largely known for her songwriting, often about relationships, and this record is no different: She covers topics like late bloomers, "When I turned 16, I was furious and restless," troubled romances, "I told you I cheated and you punched through the drywall," and marriage, "I could love you forever. I could love you until all the Polaroids fade."
Lewis's music video for the album's first single, "Just One of the Guys," is a star-studded affair, featuringher friends Anne Hathaway and Kristen Stewart all dolled up—but as men. The song is a partly a meditation on ticking clocks ("When I look at myself, all I can see/I'm just another lady without a baby.") Lewis tells me her lyrics speak for themselves and there is, "that lady pressure, as you called it, that is just biological in some ways." She adds that, "Despite hanging out with dudes for my entire life and trying to fit in, ultimately, I'm a woman, and I'm becoming more comfortable with that the older I get." She adds, "I've fought to be where I am today, and I'm absolutely a feminist."
Lewis wrote the album, her first solo record since 2008, while struggling with a two-year bout of insomnia that she says almost took her out of the game. "I became an asshole," she jokes. While sleepless nights didn't really help her creativity, they did prompt her to watch a lot of late-night boxing and Cosmos, the television series by Carl Sagan, which became inspiration for her album. "I would watch that over and over and some that imagery really made it into the songs," she says. Which isn't to say that the title track is "a science fiction song." Instead, it's more about personal voyages. As she sings, "Nothing lasts forever when you travel time/ I've been sipping that Kool-Aid of the cosmos."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) has accused House oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of inappropriately intervening in an ongoing Federal Trade Commission case against a company being represented by a legal group run by a former Issa staffer. Last month, Issa sent a letter to the FTC questioning testimony the agency had gathered for the case, which targets a medical testing company called LabMD. The firm allegedly exposed the personal data of almost 10,000 people. On Thursday morning, Issa's committee held a hearing that featured LabMD CEO Michael Daugherty and focused on whether the FTC has overstepped its bounds by investigating companies that experience data breaches.
"You [are] using heavy-handed, bullying tactics to undermine due process and to inappropriately assist the defendant LabMD," Rockefeller wrote in a recent letter to Issa, which was obtained by Mother Jones. "The inappropriate timing and nature of your investigation are buttressed by the revelation that LabMD is being represented by a former member of your committee staff." Rockefeller was referring to Daniel Epstein, who from January 2009 to August 2011 served as an oversight committee counsel. Epstein now heads a nonprofit legal advocacy group called Cause of Action, which is representing LabMD in the FTC matter.
This isn't the first time Anonymous has zeroed in on Israel; the collective has been launching cyber-attacks against the country for several years, with mixed results. "As a collective 'Anonymous' does not hate Israel, it hates that Israel's government is committing genocide & slaughtering unarmed people in Gaza to obtain more land at the border," an Anonymous spokesperson, using the Twitter handle @YourAnonCentral, tells Mother Jones. The spokesperson notes that there has never been any Anonymous action taken against Palestinian targets, including Hamas, the outfit governing Gaza and launching rocket attacks against Israel.