Mapping Ebola 2014

There are many important efforts at mapping the Ebola virus.  WHO, CDC, Harvard University’s HealthMap, ESRI and citizen efforts organized by the American Red Cross are among the most comprehensive mapping efforts supporting efforts to understand and stem the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

The WHO’s 2014 map on the geographic spread of the Ebola virus in human and animals is a fascinating overview map that details all known outbreaks as well as the known range of fruit bats. Based on current thinking about the reservoir population, the map of the distribution of fruit bats is important in understanding the outbreaks in human and animal populations.

Source: World Health Organization

Source: World Health Organization

Ebola was first discovered in 1976 after a group touring an area in vicinity of the Ebola River in northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) near the border with the Central African Republic contracted the virus, and many of them subsequently died back at their rural village of Yambuku, some 96 kms from the river.


Yambuku in 1976. Source: Dr. Lyle Conrad, Center for Disease Control (CDC) — ID# 7186.

Since then, outbreaks in human populations have appeared sporadically in Central, West and East Africa, and South Africa registered an imported cases when a medical professional traveled from Libreville (Gabon) to Johannesburg (South Africa in 1996) and a South Africa nurse who took care of the infected patient also died. The geographical pattern of Ebola outbreaks is well documented by the CDC (see table

The first case in the 2014 outbreak occurred in Guéckédou, a rural border town in Southern Guinea in December 2013 but remained undetected until March 2014.  Importantly, bat hunting is common in Guéckédou. This town was an epicenter in fighting in the civil war in adjacent Liberia in 2001 and 2001. It has since sprawled into a vibrant market town; its weekly market attracts traders from Southern Guinea, Liberia, and even as far afield as Côte d’Ivoire. Subsequently, the virus diffused locally before jumping to other districts and countries. Certainly, the acceleration of the human pulse of the continent enabled the diffusion of the virus within the West Africa region via roads, airways (to Lagos), and possibly by the sale of contaminated bush meat.

There are a variety of good up-to-date current maps on the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard’s HealthMap now includes an animated Ebola cases/death map. The map tallies official sources as well as social media. While news and social media reports are not always reliable, they provide real-time data on the spread of the virus.

ESRI (UK) has developed a story map enables users to explore all outbreaks since 1976. Basic statistics about each outbreak and reports from different agencies are incorporated within the map.

The American Red Cross is enlisting online volunteers to assist in the satellite mapping effort to help monitor the current outbreak of the Ebola virus ( Effort is directed to mapping villages and roads in rural West Africa and key locations such as cemeteries and clinics in these locations.

More detailed maps of small town and villages are now available due to a concerted international mapping effort (See Map of Kissidougou, Guinea).

Source: Open Street Map

Source: Open Street Map

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