When people look back on 2014, it may be best remembered as the year of Ebola. Two previous assumptions – that the virus was confined to remote regions of central Africa, and that the notorious virulence of the disease acted as a kind of self-limiting factor, with epidemics always burning themselves out after their initial flare-up – were shattered. Since its discovery in 1976, Ebola has been a curiosity in virology’s chamber of horrors, but in 2014 it well and truly arrived as a serious player in the global disease-threat league table.
As the world watched apprehensively and then stirred into action, the general impression was that the scientific and medical establishment had no suitable drugs, no vaccine and, some would have it, no clue. The truth, however, is a little more complicated.