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Join us for a Science on Google+  Hangout on Air as we speak to Professor Vincent Racaniello and Dr Tara C.

Join us for a Science on Google+  Hangout on Air as we speak to Professor Vincent Racaniello and Dr Tara C. Smith about the recent Ebola outbreak. We will discuss the basics of Ebola, why the epidemic has spread, how it might be curtailed, and debunk some of the myths surrounding this outbreak. Please leave your questions on the Event page.

Vincent is a professor of virology at the University of Columbia and is a fantastic science communicator. Tara is an epidemiologist at Kent State University who has written numerous articles debunking some of the myths surrounding Ebola. This HOA will be hosted by Dr Buddhini Samarasinghe  and Dr Zuleyka Zevallos. You can tune in on Sunday August 10th at 2.30 PM Pacific, 5.30 PM Eastern. The hangout will be available for viewing on our YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/ScienceHangouts) after the event.

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54 Comments


  1. Have you guys heard about the mosaic vaccine applied to Ebola? My colleague Paul Fenimore gave a talk yesterday, trying to apply ideas from the mosaic vaccine my mentor Bette Korber invented for HIV. I can explain how the mosaic vaccine works for HIV, don’t know much about ebola since I don’t work on it, but I know that there is ongoing research in my group to try and apply the same ideas to the ebola virus. 

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  2. E.E. Giorgi that’s very interesting!  If you have any links, please share them here. No, I hadn’t heard of mosaic vaccine application for ebola but I am not a virologist and I ‘know what I don’t know’ 🙂


    As an aside, there are so many Ebola experts these days on social media that I try to remain skeptical about their claims and instead listen to people who actually have the decades of specialist knowledge required to be an authority on this topic.

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  3. Bette has decades of expertise on teh mosaic vaccine — she invented it and we’re about to test in humans. The major challenge all these viruses pose is variability: again, I don’t know the specs of ebola, but hiv for example, every person has a different virus. In our database we have half a million of DISTINCT hiv genomes. You can’t put half a million strains into a vaccine, and no single strain protects from the whole hiv population. The mosaic vaccine is created in silico: you input a population of natural viral genomes and then the computer starts recombining them (mimicking what the virus does when it recombines in vivo) until it creates a sequence that summarizes the variability of teh whole population. This is measured in “breadth” and “coverage” of number of real hiv epitopes it can “recognize.” So, the mosaic vaccine is real and it can indeed be applied to ebola. As always, we just need the money. I’ll ask Paul if he has some references and I’ll pass them on to you guys. 

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  4. Oh, and Able Lawrence : polyvalent means that the vaccine has more than one strain, which is also something we can do with mosaic vaccines: you take 2-3 mosaics from different pools and use them for maximized coverage, that’s a polyvalent mosaic vaccine. The only issue with mosaic vaccines is that because they are designed in silico, once you make them in the lab you have to prove that they are stable and viable and sometimes the requirements are stricter than with natural vaccines.


    If the “divergent” strains, like you call them, keep arising you can’t protect from all of them when vaccinating with just a few. New ones will always arise. 

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  5. A mosaic is not made with one strain per subtype, like you are indicating, because these viruses have so much variability within subtype that often that’s not enough. So, each mosaic vaccine is made with a whole pool from the hundreds of viruses from teh same subtype and then you take the best coverage from each subtype and make a polyvalent vaccine with each mosaic from each subtype. 

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  6. Able Lawrence I’m not sure I understand your comment. E.E. Giorgi is trying to explain mosaic vaccines, an area she actively conducts research on. You are continuing to argue with her about her subject of expertise. She is not trying to sell you anything. Please tread carefully, consider this a warning. I hope screencaps of this don’t end up on http://mansplained.tumblr.com/

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  7. Able Lawrence yes, similarly every topic looks like a nail to someone intent on being skeptical for the sake of dissent. Your language indicates that you are skeptical of E.E. Giorgi’s expertise because ‘she is trying to sell you something’. We do not tolerate such comments in our community, and any further argumentative comments will be deleted. You are free to start your own discussion through your own profile but we reserve the right to moderate the discussions happening on our Page and profile. Editing your past comments to change what you said previously isn’t particularly helpful either. 

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  8. E.E. Giorgi thanks for that very interesting paper in your link. It made the distinction between variability in HIV and Ebola virus right there in the introduction and explained why a pan-specific filoviral vaccine would be great. HIV-1 shows great diversity within the pandemic, with many intermediate variants. On the other hand, filovirus diversity increases episodically as new outbreaks are found to result from novel viruses. The goal is to generate a broadly-protective filoviral vaccine. I agree that it would be great to have you on a HOA to explain mosaic vaccines! 


    Able Lawrence have you read the paper? I think it addresses your doubts.

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  9. With the hajj season coming up, there will likely be a lot of travel, contact and not just in muslim countries but also around the world. Given the current spread and containment measures, how much risk ob a global epidemic do we have? What measures can we take to contain one, and what precautions can travellers and their close friends take?

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  10. I’m not sure how this g+ stuff works, so any help would be appreciated. First, what does HOA stand for? Then, how do I get to the event page? I would love to ask questions about ebola!


    Also, I can’t wait to see/hear more from E.E. Giorgi!! Is there some way to get notified when a person of interest is doing an HOA?

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  11. Sophie Wrobel Thanks for your question! The four main countries affected by Ebola are in West Africa. Of these, Islam is only a majority religion in Sierra Leone (over 70%) and it’s one of the main religions in Guinea-Bissau and Nigeria (50% each). It’s a minority religion in Liberia (20%). There is a social dimension to Ebola’s spread – it’s more likely to affect the poor and those living with inadequate healthcare – so religion does not play a role per se; it’s more connected to socio-economics. There is an enforced quota on the number of hajj pilgrims for every country (up to 1,000 pilgrims per million inhabitants). The biggest nation to be represented is Indonesia, followed by Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Iraq. The biggest number of hajj pilgrims from Africa are from two Northern African nations: Morocco and Sudan. The Saudi Arabian Government has already declared it will block pilgrims from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. This is also the second year the number of pilgrims has been restricted even further than usual due to construction (not health concerns).


    Why not Nigeria? As of Friday, the WHO had reported only 13 cases of Ebola and four of these are connected to Patrick Sawyer, a Liberia-born American who was working overseas as a consultant. Of these new cases, all were health care workers, cleaners or other staff at the hospital where Sawyer was being treated. This is yet another social dimension: people are being infected because the health facilities are poorly funded and therefore under-staffed and under-equipped to deal with the disease. 


    Remember that Ebola is not airborne. It requires close and direct contact with blood and other bodily fluids and secretions.This is why it spreads through hospital patients and other health workers, including the widely discussed (minority) of Americans.


    The hajj has dealt with other epidemics in the past such as the MERS virus, and that is easier to spread. As far as travel goes, the WHO has called for stricter screening at airports but it is not calling for a ban on travel. It’s highly unlikely that people would become infected on a plane or airport unless they are covered in an infected person’s bodily fluids. The biggest obstacle to containment is poor facilities to treat the infection and sanitation issues. 


    I hope this addresses the first part of your question on the hajj and generally the second part on travel and containment. We’ll discuss the second part of your question in more detail during our HOA. We’ll talk about how the virus spreads, including the medical and social reasons, and the possibility of a global pandemic. But just so you know the United Nations is classifying Ebola as an epidemic (not a pandemic). The UN has called it an international public health emergency, as international support and intervention is required to address the poor healthcare infrastructure contributing to its spread. 

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  12. Hi deena mcIver Thanks for your comment – Google+ and the lingo can be a bit confusing when you’re first starting out! “HOA” stands for Hangout on Air. It means we’ll be talking live via Google+’s connection to YouTube. So you can watch our broadcast directly on Google+ (or later on YouTube).


    You are actually already commenting on the Event page, so you can post your questions on this Google+ thread where you made your original comment. The direct link to the Ebola Event page is: http://goo.gl/ysS8cd


    You can stay informed about our future HOAs by circling Science on Google+ or following our Twitter @ScienceOnGoogle As far as following the amazing E.E. Giorgi circle her on G+ if you haven’t already! 

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  13. Able Lawrence You have already been asked by our Moderators to stay on topic and we’ve provided you a link to peer reviewed research that addresses the issues you’ve raised. We have a strict policy of not allowing conspiracy theories in our Community and this is the territory you’re heading into.


    Our Community has already addressed the transmission of Ebola via our re-post of virology expert Maren Hunsberger (http://goo.gl/1o7beB). Our Moderators have continued to address your persistent focus on aerosol transmission with published scientific evidence. Experts have noted that Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with bodily fluids. You were already provided with this link in another thread (http://goo.gl/E26qQC). You can also see the World Health Organisation (http://goo.gl/rQmEVX). 


    Moreover one of our Moderators has already noted on another thread where you were raising similar comments:  


    “Here’s a wonderful, commonsense blog on why we should not fear an Ebola outbreak in developed countries like the US. It’s written by Johns Hopkins epidemiology student Rene Najera makes the point that Ebola is not airborne, asymptomatic people are not contagious, and that we have very different cultural and social systems from the regions in Africa where this is endemic.” http://goo.gl/VESJMp


    One of the experts who will be part of our HOA,  Tara C Smith has already addressed the 2008 study of the Reston Ebola virus in pigs: “I wrote about that paper two years ago, and it in no way changes my assertion that Ebola doesn’t spread between people in an airborne manner…. the kicker was not that Ebola is transmitted by air in human outbreaks, but rather that there may be something unique about pig physiology that allows them to generate more infectious aerosols as a general rule–so though aerosols aren’t a transmission route between primates (including humans, as well as non-human primates used experimentally), pigs may be a bigger threat as far as aerosols. Thus, this may be important for transmission of swine influenza and other viruses as well as Ebola.


    So unless you’re sitting next to an Ebola-infected pig, seriously, airborne transmission of Ebola viruses isn’t a big concern. (http://buff.ly/1tLm8Pd). 


    As for conspiracies, we’ve tweeted links to virologist Abbie Smith who has addressed some of the conspiracy theories about so-called “top secret” projects and cures. She shows that this focus is bogus (http://buff.ly/1s9L9zr). 


    We will not engage with you again on this issue. This is the last time we will tell you to stay on topic. We also note your disrespect of experts on this thread and your continued pinging of our Moderators who have already addressed your comments several times. We will not tolerate this behaviour. You can raise whatever issues you see fit on your personal thread, but do not persist with conspiracy tales within this Community. We will not engage with you further on this so please observe respect of our Moderators and members commenting on our threads. Read our Guidelines for our policy on commenting.

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  14. I find it ironic that free and open publication of gain of function mutations that increase airborne transmission of avian flu viruses are decried by the same public who now seem to think that there is a conspiracy to withhold information of airborne transmission in viruses. Can the conspiracy theorists be consistent, please? 

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  15. will you guys be posting the you tube link once it’s uploaded? I’m sharing the event on FB, I have a bunch of friends there who asked me about the ebola virus and I’m sure they’ll be interested in watching. Also, Rajini Rao , thanks so much for the clarification on the paper I cited. 🙂

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  16. Yay!!  Thanks for the help!  


    I’m curious about the treatment given to the Americans.  Is there no other country with this treatment that would be willing to “go off label” to try to save some of these folks that are at high risk of death?!? There has got to be something that can be done by the science community.

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  17. Hi again deena mcIver We’ll discuss treatment of the Ebola virus during the HOA. Briefly, the biggest issue is containment rather than an “off the label” treatment. The problem with the Ebola outbreak is the lack of medical infrastructure in developing nations. You might like to follow up this article that we tweeted a few days a go, by Virologist Abbie Smith: “There was nothing top-secret about the experimental treatment given to US Ebola patients” (http://buff.ly/1s9L9zr). The science community is not dragging its feet on this outbreak. What we need is international aid to support the basic medical facilities in the affected nations. Without this international intervention, more patients will be infected as well as medical staff. I wrote about this earlier in this thread as did Rajini Rao (see her comments http://goo.gl/Ogwdb4). We’ll address some of these social dynamics during the HOA. Thanks for your questions!

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  18. Able Lawrence Quackery and magic aren’t to blame here. The public is scared and the West African Governments involved are doing an uneven job at educating people.  Misguided panic and misinformation is not confined to developing regions. Similar misinformation exists in developed nations about vaccines and some diseases. We are seeing a lot of misinformation and conspiracy theories about Ebola in developed nations. The evidence is on this thread. Public science education by qualified experts on virology and epidemiology and effective information campaigns are key to prevention and further spread.


    In the currently affected nations in West Africa people see that healthcare workers are getting sick and they are afraid that hospitals are spreading the virus. They’re not just avoiding treatment due to superstition; in fact many people are going for treatment, but facilities are inadequately equipped to deal with the volume and severity of the epidemic. Tara C. Smith has addressed the history of Ebola outbreaks and she shows how social infrastructure issues play into the current epidemic. She shows that containment is possible as Uganda proved years a go, with effective collaboration between governments, community leaders & hospitals. She writes, “We need this cooperation as much as we need PPE and even more than we need “secret serums,” because it is only with prevention of new cases that this epidemic will finally die out.” http://goo.gl/mpm6Cq


    We are very lucky to have two qualified infectious disease experts talking sensibly about the peer reviewed science with us tomorrow.

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  19. I’m afraid that ignorance and arrogance are way worse than quackery and magic. My grandma was illiterate and she was humble and trusted doctors. Today we think we know everything because there’s everything (literally everything) on the Internet and we no longer trust the experts. Just sayin’. 

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  20. Some infected people (e.g. Paciencia Melgar, an infected missionary nun who was working with the priest Miguel Pajares in Saint Joseph’s Catholic Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia) have refused to be transferred to those hospitals specifically conditioned for this Ebola outbreak (the isolation unit of the ELWA Hospital in Monrovia?). According to them, in those hospitals patients are left on their own, without receiving care. Do you know anything about those deficiencies and whether they’ll be solved in the next weeks?


    rtve.es/alacarta/videos/noticias-24-horas/declaraciones-misionera-paciencia-melgar-infectada-ebola-liberia/2699414 

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  21. It is only now that I could watch the full hangout (time zones to be blamed). Thanks Science on Google+ for organizing this HOA. Thank you Vincent Racaniello and Tara C. Smith for all your valuable points and debunking myths associated with this virus.

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  22. I watched this video last night. Some of the points made by  Vincent Racaniello and Tara C. Smith struck a chord, especially when talking about quick response times. There is a need to look at a process which can maybe use some hybrid technologies to combine vaccinations and preparedness…. some kind of ability to synthesize reasonable quantities of meds and vaccines at short notice. (I’m not specifically talking about Ebola here ).


    I’m sure people have thought about this before, but I was genuinely interested to know if this is a worthwhile line of inquiry.

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  23. Able Lawrence as far as I have seen, Doctors without borders are almost always there as first responders. So are the CDC and similar agencies who have vested or jurisdictional interests. But my question was about how we go about handing outbreaks which could have been better managed if we had vaccines or symptomatic treatment available faster.


    The question came out of the comment which Vincent Racaniello made about how he wished they could have had better quarantine and vaccines in large(r) quantities. 


    Of course I understand that these things take time, I was thinking, we could ostensibly build a better process.

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