The current West African Ebola virus outbreak is deservedly the news topic of the day. This outbreak is larger and deadlier than the more than 30 Ebola outbreaks combined since the virus was discovered in 1976, totaling more than 13,000 confirmed and probable cases and nearly 5,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. It has appeared outside Africa, in the United States, Spain, Norway, and in a separate outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is teaching us more about diseases that are deadly, highly infectious, and lacking effective drug or vaccine treatments.
It is also teaching us more about the unreliability of studying human diseases in nonhuman animals-and about the media hyperbole that can work to conceal this truth. The New York Times on October 30, 2014 called a recent study a "significant advance" in the role of laboratory experiments to analyze Ebola-in mice.
The study's authors, acknowledging the inadequacy of the current mouse models of Ebola infection, investigated the effects of the Ebola virus in 47 genetically diverse mouse strains. Some of the mice, they found, were completely resistant to the virus; others were only partially so; and still others experienced severe illness, hemorrhaging, and death. Overall, half of all the mice who were not resistant to the virus died. The authors concluded that the results suggest an important genetic link to outcomes in Ebola infection among mice-a link that may also be present for human victims.