The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was first recognized in March of 2014, but it likely crossed over from animals to humans in late 2013. In the intervening months, it has grown to an epidemic of unprecedented severity. It has infected more people than every other known Ebola outbreak combined - around 5,500 recognized cases, as of this writing. This species of Ebola has a case fatality risk of 70-90%, so the number of human lives already lost is truly astounding.
Despite the severity of the current situation, the months to come threaten to be even worth. Exponential growth continues unabated in Liberia in particular, which means that every sick person infects two other people on average. That may not sound like a lot, but tens and hundreds of thousands of cases in the forthcoming months is not out of the question. Sierra Leone and Guinea are experiencing less dramatic growth, but are producing a catastrophic number of cases nonetheless.
What looks like a slow trickle of cases in the beginning is simply the way exponential growth works - one to two to four cases isn't all that many. But when you get into hundreds or thousands of cases, the number of new cases produced is staggering. I've seen many media reports claim that the epidemic is accelerating, but that's not the case. It's simply following the trajectory it has been on all along.
What's significant about that point is that the current state (and the situation to come) were foreseeable and foreseen. Ignoring the outbreak for the first six months was folly, but continuing to ignore it is a "threat to global peace and security"
In an effort to help, I have been digitizing data on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which is released by the WHO, the Liberia Ministry of Health, and the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health in PDF format. The data are available for download on my github. I haven't seen any analyses of the county-level data online - the PDF format and the multi-dimensional aspect render it a little more inaccessible than a normal data set. Over the next several days and weeks, I will be analyzing these data and publishing my findings here on this blog. I hope that they are useful for helping people to understand the severity of the outbreak, and perhaps they will even be useful for public health planning and response.
You can follow along by searching the ebola category on my blog, adding me to your RSS feed, or monitoring #hackebola on Twitter. I also encourage you to download the data and develop analyses of your own - tag them with the hashtag, and add them to the analyses/ folder on my github too.
Update: If you are just joining us, know that the series has begun. Click the ebola category to see the installments.
"Send me your data - PDF is fine," said no one ever
The public health paradox ("When public health works, it's invisible")
Let's make data a civic right
Scholarly impact of open access journals
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