Race for a Cure

Article excerpt

Byline: Trevor Butterworth

Solving Ebola's deadly puzzle.

With an outbreak of the deadly, untreatable Ebola virus in Uganda, it's hard not to ask: Could an epidemic happen here? As Gwyneth Paltrow demonstrated in the 2011 movie Contagion, there's nothing to stop a killer virus from hitching a ride on a world traveler and turning a local sneeze into a global fever.

In fact, in 2008 two women visited a bat-filled cave in Uganda and managed to bring the Marburg virus, a close and equally deadly relative of Ebola, back to both Europe and the U.S. The first, a Dutchwoman, died; the second, a woman from Colorado who recalled touching a guano-covered rock and then later covering her nose with her hand due to the ghastly smell, survived after a prolonged illness. Prior to that there was an outbreak of Ebola in a colony of laboratory monkeys in Reston, Va., a story recounted in Richard Preston's bestseller, The Hot Zone, and exaggerated for apocalyptic effect in the 1995 movie Outbreak. The Marburg virus is named after the German lab it was discovered in, where lab workers fell ill from contact with infected monkeys in 1967. Seven died.

This is why one of the most important new developments in fighting Ebola is rapid blood testing. As the Centers for Disease Control's Craig Manning points out, in previous outbreaks blood samples had to be shipped to the CDC's headquarters in Atlanta for analysis, a process that, agonizingly, took three days. …