What’s keeping scientists from vanquishing Ebola?

More than 40 years after it was identified, the Ebola virus continues to defy drugs, treatment plans—and experts’ best efforts to solve its mysteries.

In the 25 years since my book The Hot Zone traced the emergence of extremely lethal viruses, one of them has proved to be the most destructive: Ebola. At this writing, Ebola has killed hundreds in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the second largest outbreak since the virus was identified in 1976. The largest—from 2014 to 2016 in three West African nations—resulted in almost 30,000 cases, nearly half of them fatal. Fierce international efforts helped quell Ebola that time, but there are no assurances that the virus (above) has ended its assaults on the human species. Ebola is hard to arrest for many complicated reasons (below). But scientists keep trying—and what they learn will equip us to face this virus, and possibly worse, in the future.

1. The vaccine’s requirements
Ebola vaccine has to be kept cold. But in tropical areas where little refrigeration is available, the vaccine can quickly become useless. And we don’t yet have a dried or otherwise nonperishable form of the vaccine.

2. Constraints and costs of new drugs
There are experimental, genetically engineered drugs for Ebola, but it’s not yet clear if they’ll be broadly effective, and affordable enough that they’ll be feasible for mass treatment of Ebola victims.

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