Ebola Virus Is Spreading: Should You Be Concerned?
As the worst Ebola outbreak in human history rages across West Africa, the obvious question Americans are asking is: Could it come here? The answer is yes, it probably will. But it’s not worth losing sleep over, experts say.
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The virus is one of the deadliest ever seen, killing up to 90 percent of its victims. And the death isn’t pretty. About half of patients exhibit the gruesome bleeding symptoms. But it can also resemble other tropical diseases, like dengue with its high fever, so Ebola is sometimes missed in its early stages.
In West Africa, 672 people have died of the Ebola virus. Fears of a global Ebola pandemic are “justified,” Dr. Derek Gatherer has said, following the death of Patrick Sawyer and treasured virologist, Sheik Umar Khan, who had treated more than 100 Ebola patients.
The Ebola virus has swept through Western Africa, having been first detected in Guinea in February. And since then, many victims have succumbed to the awful and incurable disease. With more than 1,200 people being infected, this is the worst outbreak recorded since the Ebola virus was discovered in 1976–spreading from a village in Guinea to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. Symptoms start with flu-like symptoms and eventually evolve into horrific internal bleeding.
Sawyer died from the Ebola virus after arriving at the airport Lagos and that was the beginning of many legitimate fears that the disease could spread West and carried across international borders by air travelers. Dr. Gatherer claims that once a person is infected, they could spread the virus to at least two people. “Anyone on the same plane could have become infected because Ebola is easy to catch,” he said. “It can be passed on through vomiting, diarrhea or even from simply saliva or sweat, as well as being sexually transmitted.” And that is where the overwhelming response of panic comes from in regards to Mr. Sawyer because he became ill on a flight, so anyone on the plane could have been infected via his bodily fluids.
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There’s also a 33-year-old doctor from Texas who is suffering through the disease and is hospitalized in Monrovia, Liberia. His condition is said to have worsened and he can no longer get out of bed. The Ebola outbreak in west Africa is “speeding up rather than slowing down,” and the “reach of the spider web of infection is growing,” a leading aid charity has warned.
Here’s the thing: shockingly, outbreaks occur almost annually and this Ebola outbreak is the 29th one of its kind. Granted, it is the most intense one we’ve seen since then. Most outbreaks happened within a few countries in Western Africa, but they tend to be brief (six weeks-two months), but brutal.
An infection story from a U.S. citizen:
Nancy Writebol, who is originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, but has been in Liberia for a decade, came down with the disease last week after working in a unit which disinfected doctors and nurses treating victims of the Ebola epidemic. Her husband, David, is also in Liberia and is being tested every six hours to see if he has the disease. Due to Ebola’s long incubation period, he may not known for some time if he is in the clear.
The couple’s son, Jeremy, said that Mrs Writebol was in isolation, and her husband is able to see her through a window but is not allowed direct contact with her.
He told NBC’s Today show: “She’s stable. As dad put it, she’s fighting through it, and continuing to express a few symptoms, but she’s able to move around on her own, and they’re getting lots of fluids into her. She’s working real hard to get through this.”
What’s Being Done:
• Liberian and Nigerian airports and seaports began screening international arrivals for Ebola symptoms, however these can take up to 21 days to appear
• Pan-African airline ASKY has suspended all flights to and from the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone over the worsening health crisis
• The Liberian Football Association has decided “to cease operations of football activities considering that football matches are contact sports and Ebola is spread through body contacts with an infected person”
Ebola in the U.S.?
So, could the Ebola virus come to the United States? Definitely. Would it spread widely? Unlikely.
Raj Panjabi, Last Mile co-founder and CEO, said it is very clear that the epidemic can be brought under control in West Africa by rapidly identifying sick people, treating them, and preventing the disease from being spread.
But all that takes money, of course, and area governments and nonprofits don’t have enough resources to tackle the problem on their own, Panjabi said.
“We do not anticipate this will spread in the U.S. if an infected person is hospitalized here,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a statement Tuesday. “We are taking action now by alerting health care workers in the U.S. and reminding them how to isolate and test suspected patients while following strict infection-control procedures.”
American hospitals are adequately supplied with infection-control equipment like gloves, gowns, and masks that will prevent the spread of the disease. American medical care workers—educated by the AIDS epidemic—know how to keep themselves safe while treating sick patients. And the American system of reporting illness would identify a sick patient very quickly, allowing the disease to be contained and controlled.
But it’s still in America’s interest to control the disease in West Africa, Panjabi said.
“If we respond well to this, we could both impact the epidemic—control it, stop it—but also do it in a way that strengthens the long-term primary care system,” he said, which “could protect against future [epidemics].”
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