Global Ebola Outbreak? Not Quite. 7 Reasons Americans Shouldn’t Panic.
The hype machine has been working overtime the past few weeks as the words “Ebola” and “outbreak” have spurred a frenzy that has turned positively infectious. While the outbreak of a deadly disease should be cause for concern, a little education might go a long way to soothe the frantic hearts of many Americans.
First, let’s look at the facts: The Ebola virus (AKA Ebola virus disease or Ebola hemorrhagic fever) refers to a group of viruses that affect multiple organ systems in the body and are often accompanied by bleeding. Early symptoms include sudden onset of fever, weakness, muscle pain, headaches and a sore throat. These symptoms later progress to vomiting, diarrhea, and impaired kidney and liver function (leading to internal and external bleeding.) It can be manifest by bleeding from the mouth, nose, and eyes. In other words, Ebola is a terrible and fairly gruesome way to die. It is partially for this reason that so many Americans are thrown into such a deep panic at the mention of the virus.
The truth is that most Americans (and other non-West-Africans) have little to worry about. Here are seven reasons to hold off on hitting the panic button:
1. Yes, it’s the largest Ebola outbreak ever, but…
This year’s outbreak is indeed larger than any previously recorded outbreak of the Ebola virus, but the title of “largest outbreak ever” is a bit misleading. While the average annual total of Ebola cases is below 1,000 (yes, humans have contracted the Ebola virus consistently for nearly 40 years now,) this year’s total has only surpassed that number by a few hundred, reaching 1,711 cases to date. In addition, the virus has thus far remained in a very small – and very underdeveloped – geographical area in West Africa.
2. How many have died?
According to the World Health Organization, as of August 4, 2014, a total of 1,711 patients were identified as either having “suspect,” “probable,” or “confirmed” cases of Ebola. 932 of those 1,711 have died, a mortality rate of about 54% (drastically lower than the 90% mortality rate of the original Zaire outbreak in 1976.) Almost all of these cases have occurred in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
By contrast, somewhere around 30,000 Americans die each year from influenza. Yes, the flu.
3. How is it transmitted?
Because Ebola is not a respiratory disease like the flu, it is not transmitted through the air. According to Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the virus is only spread through direct contact with an infected person. He reminds travelers that, “The important thing to remember is that Ebola is only spread through contact with blood and body fluids. People with Ebola are only contagious when they are showing symptoms.”
For this and other reasons, you are unlikely to pass an Ebola carrier on the sidewalk (or any other place.) If you still aren’t convinced, go ahead and skip to #7.
4. Why isn’t this contained?
The World Health Organization says it is believed that fruit bats are the natural hosts of the Ebola virus in Africa, passing the virus to other animals as well as humans. Humans contract Ebola through contact with the bodily fluids of infected animals (often through preparing meals made from brush animals) or the bodily fluids of infected humans.
While the virus is believed to be able to survive for some days in liquid outside an infected organism, chlorine disinfection, heat, direct sunlight, soaps and detergents can kill it. The sad reality is that the rural areas thus far affected by the Ebola outbreak do not have modern sanitation or medical practices available to them. They rely, in many cases, on superstitious beliefs and primitive practices to ineffectively ward off the causes of the deadly disease.
5. What makes it so difficult to treat?
Ebola – like the flu and the common cold – is a virus. For that reason it cannot be treated using antibiotics. In addition, those who are infected with the Ebola virus are most commonly out of the reach of competent, sanitary, preventative health measures.
For the time being, patients with Ebola are treated with supportive therapy. This includes balancing their fluids, maintaining their oxygen levels and blood pressure, and treating them for any complicating infections, the CDC says.
6. Are we developing a Cure?
ZMapp – a highly experimental and unproven drug – has already been successfully administered to at least two Americans who contracted the Ebola virus while volunteering in Africa. Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol’s conditions significantly improved after receiving the medication. Brantly was able to walk into Emory University Hospital in Atlanta (escorted by CDC workers in full protective Tyvek® suits) after being evacuated to the United States last week, and Writebol is expected to arrive in Atlanta on Tuesday to undergo further treatment and observation.
It is important to note that ZMapp not been approved for human use and has not even gone through the clinical trial process, which is standard to prove the safety and efficacy of a medication. It may have been given under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “compassionate use” regulation, which allows access to investigational drugs outside clinical trials.
7. Could this spread in US?
In short, it is unlikely that the disease will become widespread in the U.S. Federal agents at U.S. airports are watching travelers from Africa for flu-like symptoms. Border patrol agents at Washington’s Dulles International Airport and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, in particular, are watching for signs of fever, achiness, sore throat, stomach pain, rash or red eyes. The CDC also has staff at 20 U.S. airports and border crossings. Any passenger suspected of carrying the deadly virus would be quarantined immediately and evaluated by medical personnel, CDC said.
In addition, Susan M. Grant, Head RN of Emory Hospital in Atlanta, told the Washington Post Wednesday that her facility “Has a unit created specifically for these types of highly infectious patients, and our staff is thoroughly trained in infection control procedures and protocols. But beyond that, the public alarm overlooks the foundational mission of the U.S. medical system. The purpose of any hospital is to care for the ill and advance knowledge about human health. At Emory, our education, research, dedication and focus on quality — essentially everything we do — is in preparation to handle these types of cases.”
For now, Americans can take courage knowing they remain safe from Ebola becoming endemic in the U.S. And no amount of fictional literature or fear-mongering press can change that.
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