New antibiotics urgently needed

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently released a list of bacteria for which new antibiotics are urgently needed. They are hoping for new research and development, especially on multi-drug-resistant gram-negative bacteria. The list is divided into three priority categories:


HIGH Priority

Medium Priority

The Lassa Ward: a book review

The Lassa Ward by Ross Donaldson (2009)

I recently read The Lassa Ward: One Man’s Fight Against One of the World’s Deadliest Diseases by Ross Donaldson. Donaldson was a medical student working in Sierra Leone, fighting Lassa fever with the late Dr. Aniru Conteh at the Kenema Government Hospital.

Street scene, Kenema, Sierra Leone (photo: Patrick S. Bangura)

Donaldson’s story touches on some of the same public health challenges as the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It therefore sheds some light on that ongoing medical crisis, as well as reminding us that Ebola is far from being the only medical problem in that part of the world. This fascinating and somewhat disturbing memoir is well worth a read.

We soon pulled off the road and parked next to a small porch, where an anemic light guarded a few empty tables. As we sat down, our driver greeted the waitress. ‘How dee body?’ he said in a singsong timbre. ‘Dee body fine,’ the woman replied with a welcoming smile. I tried to follow the pair’s conversation in Krio, Sierra Leone’s official language, but could identify only a few words of the English-based dialect that freed slaves had brought back to Africa.

… From the moment I had first heard about the dreaded Lassa virus, during my second year of medical school in a sterile California classroom that now felt very far away, I had been drawn to the illness. The disease is one of four famed VHFs (including Ebola, Marburg, and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever) that share a terrifying tendency to spread from person to person, as well as a gruesome clinical picture of massive bleeding frequently leading to death. … During that time, Lassa became a symbol to me of something different, of foreign adventure and unquestionable need.

The Lassa Ward by Ross Donaldson: 3½ stars

Ebola #4

In spite of some new UN initiatives, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa still seems to be growing exponentially, as the logarithmic plot below shows (with the dashed line being a simplistic extrapolation of the number of cases). It also seems that the US has its first case (a traveller from Liberia). It may be time for the world to take this disease more seriously, and to develop some new control measures.

Ebola #3

Updating Ebola news, the map above shows the current situation in West Africa. The graph below shows cases to date (with LOESS smoothing).

Below is an estimate of the new cases per day (calculated from the smoothed data). The acceleration of the disease appears to be continuing, which is very disturbing. See the WHO and CDC websites for more information.

Ebola #2

Further to my previous post on the Ebola outbreak, the graph above shows the total number of reported cases (data from Wikipedia) with LOESS smoothing. Below is an estimate of the new cases per day (calculated from the smoothed data). It can be seen that the disease is still accelerating, which is cause for concern. See the WHO and CDC websites for more information.


The horror that is the Ebola virus outbreak continues to sweep across West Africa. A filovirus (image above) is responsible, and the WHO reports 3,069 cases, with 1,552 deaths. Sadly, there is no sign of the disease slowing down.

The case of two aid workers treated in the USA suggests that the survival rate can be improved with high-quality care, which supports vital functions and counteracts fluid and electrolyte losses. However, delivering such care in Africa can be difficult.

The CDC has more information. One can only hope and pray that medical staff in Africa will be able to halt this terrible disease soon.

“Visualizing Global” competition

The Visualizing Global Marathon last year showcased some brilliant student visualisations. Two that stood out for me were the winning interactive entry by Krisztina Szucs of the University of Budapest (click for interactive graphic):

… and the winner of People’s Choice, by Qian Liu and Yun Teng from UCSB, which uses a nifty two-layer plot to visualise airline flights (click for more details):