The Ebola virus. The media is certainly making a big deal about it. It’s likely that your friends or colleagues have been talking about it recently. But what is Ebola, and why is it such a big deal?
Ebola is a contagious disease caused by a virus, just like the flu, smallpox or measles. However, unlike these three diseases, there is no vaccine to prevent the spread of the virus, so outbreaks often expand to hundreds of people. The other threat posed by Ebola is that its vaccination period can last as long three weeks, meaning that individuals can be infected without showing symptoms. The problem this creates is that the virus can spread before public health officials recognize that there is an outbreak. The good news, however, is that like the highly-publicized HIV, the viral infection can only be spread through direct contact with bodily fluids. Once a victim is infected by the virus, primary symptoms typically include a sudden-onset fever, weakness, sore throat, headaches, and pain in muscles. The next tier of symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, impaired function of kidneys and the liver, and both external and internal bleeding. The death rate of Ebola patients can be as high as 90%.
The current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has killed over 800 people to date, and three Americans have been infected. However, public health officials, such as U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director, Dr. Thomas Friedman, claim that, “Ebola poses little risk to the U.S. general population.” The three Americans who have been infected all contracted the virus while volunteering with infected patients in Liberia. Two of these American patients were flown back to Emory Hospital and the CDC for treatment, while the last passed away due to the injury.
Other possible cases have appeared in various hospitals around the United States: two Peace Corps volunteers who met with a man who later died of the virus, a Tennessee doctor who treated victims in West Africa, and travelers in both Ohio and New York who ultimately tested negative for Ebola. However, no cases have been confirmed.
One of the reasons that officials are unconcerned by the risk of Ebola to the United States at large is that, compared to facilities in the areas most suspect to Ebola outbreaks, such as West Africa, the United States is far more stringent in the measures taken to contain infectious diseases. Other infectious diseases that are common around the world, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, lassa fever, and the H5N1 flu, all infect thousands annually. However, there has yet to be a major outbreak of these illnesses in the U.S. despite several victims diagnosed. Furthermore, all three of these aforementioned diseases are far more contagious than Ebola.
The overall picture here is that Americans have no need to worry about the Ebola outbreak unless they are planning on traveling to West Africa. If you are planning on travelling to Liberia any time soon, you might want to rethink it.
Berman, Mark. “Fear, Treatment and a Serum: The U.S. and the Ebola Outbreak.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 5 Aug. 2014. Web. 05 Aug. 2014.
Bernstein, Lenny. “Why You’re Not Going to Get Ebola in the U.S.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 1 Aug. 2014. Web. 05 Aug. 2014.
“Ebola Virus Disease.” WHO Fact Sheet: Ebola. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 05 Aug. 2014.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Ebola (virus).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 05 Aug. 2014.
Image Credit: REUTERS/Tommy Trenchard. Scully, Pamela. “Why It’s the Relatively Wealthy Who Spread Ebola.” The Great Debate. Reuters, 13 Aug. 2014. Web. <http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2014/08/11/ebola-the-politics-of-resistance-in-liberia/>.