10/06/2014 09:04 am ET Updated Oct 06, 2014

What Next For The Ebola Outbreak? Here's What The Math Says

Everyone's talking about Ebola--and no wonder, now that the deadly disease has been diagnosed in the U.S. for the first time ever.

Will the mini-outbreak in Dallas be contained, as public health officials keep reassuring us?

The short answer is "yes," Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas in Austin and a pioneer in the mathematical modeling of infectious diseases tells HuffPost Science editor David Freeman in this recent interview (click on link above to listen).

"I think they are striking a good note in saying that most of you out there don’t have to worry," she says. "There doesn’t seem to be a real threat of a large epidemic in the United States."

Dr. Meyers says there are many reasons why a big outbreak is unlikely in the U.S., including the fact that Ebola isn't particularly infectious. Another reason has to do with Ebola's so-called "basic reproduction number." That's the average number of secondary infections caused by each case--in other words, when someone becomes infected with Ebola, the number of other people he/she is likely to infect.

"The reproduction number provides a lot of information," Meyers says. "It gives us a baseline for projecting the growth of outbreaks in the absence of intervention, and it tells us how hard and how effective do our interventions have to be in order to stop an epidemic."

According to Meyers, evidence suggests that Ebola's reproduction number is around 2. That, she says, is a bit higher than influenza's number but far lower than certain other infectious diseases. Measles, for example, has a reproduction number in excess of 10, according to Meyers.

To hear the full interview with Dr. Meyers, click on the link above.

The interview was originally broadcast on Sharon, Connecticut radio station WHDD/Robin Hood Radio. Scroll down for more Science Insider interviews.



Ebola Outbreak