Columbia University researchers map Ebola spread in Sierra Leone

This map indicates the transmission of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone. | Courtesy of the Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

A team of researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health has been able to map the transmission pattern of the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone, they announced on Wednesday.

The team was able to complete this through a new model of statistics and from data provided by the country’s ministry of health. Through this method the team was able to match records of what events took place in the early parts of the outbreak.

The team’s research indicates the point of entry of the virus within the Kailahun in May of 2014 and spread west and affected Kenema by the middle of June. The team used the home district information of positive patients, geographic distance and population estimates to build the map.

"To be able to infer the spatial-temporal course of an outbreak and the rate of its spread between population centers in real time may greatly aid public health planning, including the level and speed of deployment of intervention measures such as how many doctors and beds are needed and where to put them," Jeffrey Shaman, associate professor of environmental health at Columbia and senior author of the study, said.

The announcement states that the Port Loko and Kenema districts acted as critical points for the outbreak. Researchers said that with preparation the outbreak could have been controlled before it reached either location.

Shaman said that this analytical method could provide key information in real time for future outbreaks of Ebola or another kind of pathogen.

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