#Ebola2014: Where is it spreading?

As expected, there have been some very perplexing developments in #Ebola2014 over the last 24 hours. Of them, the most alarming has been a case of hemorrhagic-type illness in Saskatoon, the largest city in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. While it’s not yet clear if he has Ebola, the individual – currently quarantined and in critical condition – only recently returned from Liberia. Though it seems that #Ebola2014 originated in Guinea, there is significant concern that it has already spread to neighboring countries – including Sierra Leone and… You guessed it: Liberia.

If this case is indeed Ebola, it will be the first recorded instance that an outbreak has managed to travel out of Africa and into North America. This all said, all we know for sure – based off of reports from the Guinean government – is that there have been 87 cases and 61 deaths in Guinea thus far (CFR: 70%). [Of course, the numbers currently cited by the WHO are lower – citing 49 cases and 29 deaths (CFR: 59%).] With this in mind, and the potential Canadian case awaiting definite diagnosis, I’ve seen a lot of concern on social media outlets – usually getting at one fundamental question:

Will Ebolavirus spread to my home country?

While Ebola is exceptionally rare, the fact that it’s erupting in West Africa changes our own chances of contracting the disease. Moreover, it’s uncertain how far the virus has managed to spread outside of Guinea – and perhaps the West African region – already. What we do know is that it’s both highly contagious and can exhibit long incubation periods, making it a prime candidate for contagion. At its very core, this question sits in the space between the globalization of disease, infectious disease epidemiology, and conditional probability. In my next blog post, I’ll try to address this problem by using crude human mobility analytics as well as an approximation of Bayes’ Theory.

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