Talk: Ebola Emergence is Predictable

Dr Peter D Walsh, University of Cambridge

When: Thursday 3rd of November (Week 4) from 2-3.30 pm
Where: Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine – 47 Banbury Rd



Abstract: The failure of international public health authorities to contain the recent West African Ebola outbreak has been excused on the grounds that Ebola emergence into humans is inherently unpredictable. In this talk I will present several lines of evidence that Ebola emergence is, in fact, highly predictable. I’ll start by showing that epizootic wave spread predictions made in a 2007 paper precisely predicted the location of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo. I will then illustrate how Ebola virus evolutionary dynamics violate the core assumptions of popular phylogenetic estimation programs such as Beast, thereby producing actively misleading conclusions about the reservoir dynamics of Ebola and other emergent zoonotic viruses. Finally, I will demonstrate how commercial bush meat hunting produces spatially predictable patterns in the density of Ebola intermediate hosts like gorillas and, consequently, tightly constrains patterns of Ebola spillover into humans.