Lessons from Ebola: Better disease surveillance needed

Technology could help counter risk of next Ebola crisis

Lessons from Ebola: Better disease surveillance needed

ebola.jpgNational Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

The Ebola crisis has highlighted a need to bolster global surveillance and enhance the capability to react appropriately to further outbreaks. Recent developments in technology could enable a swifter, more effective response to potentially deadly outbreaks of disease, a study has found. Disease detection, information sharing and pathogen genome data analysis could all be improved with the coordinated use of existing technology.

A team of infectious disease experts from the University of Edinburgh and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute reviewed the global response to recent virus infection outbreaks, including Ebola, swine flu and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS CoV). They found that shortcomings in the response to Ebola highlighted the need to now adopt state-of-the-art techniques to detect, monitor and respond to such outbreaks.

Technological advances such as rapid testing of patients, modelling of infection dynamics and fast genetic analysis of virus genomes could help experts detect, monitor and respond to emergency situations as they unfold. The authors conclude these methods should be brought into public health planning around the world in order to help combat future disease outbreaks.

"Real-time sequence analysis of virus genomes such as Ebola virus is one of the most important additions to our arsenal of tools for investigating disease outbreaks, especially when such virus genome data is rapidly and openly shared. Virus genomes, when combined with the date the sample was obtained and its geographical location, allow us to determine how the virus spreads through space and time. These technologies can augment traditional surveillance and epidemiological methods, especially in the analysis of transmission chains, improving the management of an outbreak and thereby saving lives."

Professor Paul Kellam, Group Leader of Virus Genomics at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Most infectious disease outbreaks are detected first by frontline health care workers. Clinical surveillance can be unreliable however, leading to delays in detection and significant under reporting. For acute virus infections, improving detection times, even by only 24 hours, can make a critical difference in the ability to control an outbreak.

"We cannot afford to wait for the next outbreak of infectious disease before putting effective systems in place to safeguard public health. Global surveillance would be costly, but in our highly connected world, early detection and rapid action against outbreaks are to everyone's benefit."

Professor Mark Woolhouse, University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences

Notes to Editors

This research was supported by the Wellcome Trust and the EU Horizon 2020 programme (COMPARE).

Selected Websites
Contact the Press Office

Dr Samantha Wynne, Media Officer

Tel +44 (0)1223 492 368

Emily Mobley, Media Officer

Tel +44 (0)1223 496 851

Wellcome Sanger Institute,
CB10 1SA,

Mobile +44 (0) 7900 607793

Recent News

New Sanger Institute Human Cell Atlas projects funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative DAF, an advised fund of Silicon Valley Community Foundation

Projects will build computational tools to support the global Human Cell Atlas initiative to map every cell type in the body

Advance access to data: Researchers post genetic profiles of human and mouse cells on Human Cell Atlas online portal before publication

Prior to publishing their results, researchers compile and make raw data openly accessible on the preview version of the HCA Data Coordination Platform

First seeds of kidney cancer sown in adolescence

Insights from this study present an opportunity to develop approaches for early detection and early intervention in kidney cancer