Noting that the night before I read countless Ebola related articles to maintain up to speed with the epidemic, I wasn’t surprised that I awoke the following morning slightly startled that I had experienced, in my dreams, an Ebola outbreak. All I remember from that dream is being frightened and frantic for the health of my loved ones and myself. Swarms of people were rushing to hospitals for medical care resembling the stampede of wildebeest fleeing from the hyenas in Lion King. Despite Obama’s statement that the event of an Ebola outbreak similar to the one in Africa is unlikely in the US, my mind remains uneasy (The Washington Post).
Since the outbreak on December 2013 in West Africa, there have been 8,400 cases, of those 4,656 are laboratory-confirmed and 4,033 deaths (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). It’s probable that the outbreak began in a Guinea village with patient zero being a two year old and spreading to the child’s relatives and eventually outside of the village after the grandmother’s funeral (CNN). Ten months later and now there not only over four thousand deaths, but the disease has spread outside of Africa with patients in the US, Germany and Spain. The spread of the disease outside of Africa is of particular concern to me and I would only believe the entire human population, given that the mortality rate for this deadly virus is not 50% as the numbers show, but 70%, “when patients can be monitored throughout the course of their disease” (World Health Organization).
Ebola is classified as a RNA virus, meaning that it mutates each time it copies itself which has caused speculation that it could become airborne, but it is highly unlikely that it would make the dramatic change necessary to alter mode of transmission (CNN). Fortunately, it is not airborne and is contracted through bodily fluids such as saliva, blood, urine and other secretions of infected patients. The US has adopted screening procedures (checking for fevers and inquiries about travel) at airports receiving 94% of travelers arriving from affected regions, to help distinguish those possibly ill with the disease, but this is not enough given that symptoms take 2-21 days to show. The CDC said last week that banning travel to Africa would not help slow the spread of the epidemic because it would bar medical aid, however, what about restricted travel? I wonder if restricting travel to West Africa by only authorizing travel to those helping with the epidemic would be stall the spread meanwhile it is terminated.
The first individual diagnosed with Ebola in the US passed on October 8. He arrived in Dallas, already sick with Ebola, from Liberia on September 20 . Four days later, Duncan went to the Texas Health Presbyterian emergency room with a fever, abdominal pain and headache (symptoms of Ebola) where he was discharged, prescribed antibiotics and told to take Tylenol. Three days later, on September 27 he returned to the hospital and was admitted after testing positive for Ebola. During his first visit he was not screened for the disease despite displaying symptoms of the virus. Whether Duncan communicated that he had been in Liberia or not is debatable, since some say that the hospital didn’t have knowledge of his travel history, but others say they did. Nonetheless, when asked if he had contact with infected people he answered no, when in actuality he had cared for a pregnant woman infected with the virus. Duncan’s denial of contact with Ebola, delineates a huge problem in the success of screening for the virus at airport. It leaves it up to the will of the traveler whether or not to answer questions truthfully and given the range of days it takes to show symptoms, it does not seem improbable that infected travelers not showing symptoms can like Duncan, withhold such information that could potentially endanger others and raise the probability of spreading. Another concern is drugs. Duncan wasn’t given the same experimental medication that other patients treated in the US received due to depletion, I really hope that now there is sufficient supply because I fear that there will be an increase in demand.
Something else that worries me about measures taken to contain the epidemic is medical protocols. After Duncan’s death, a nurse, Nina Pham, caring for him contracted Ebola. Pham claims she is doing well and there are 76 individuals that had contact with Duncan being monitored (New York Times). Exactly how Pham became infected is unknown as of now, since she was wearing the required protective gear while caring for Duncan, but it is said that it was caused by a breach in protocols. Alarming does not come close to describing the feeling I got in the pit of my stomach when I first read about Pham’s condition. If she, a nurse with the proper protective gear contracted the virus, it is possible that others who had contact with him may have as well; of course those who were in contact with him were placed in an incubation period corresponding with the days it takes for symptoms to arise. But what about fellow staff that had contact with Pham, but were not in direct contact with Duncan, will they be placed in incubation? There was also a homeless man being monitored for symptoms whom health officials briefly lost track of (The Guardian). The general public depends on nurses, doctors and healthcare officials to maintain a healthy population through action and preventative measures; belated diagnosis and breaches in protocol only put civilians at higher risk.
It is estimated that by January the number of cases will increase to between 550,000 and 1.4 million (CNN). This number is grim and awfully high, but there is hope to be had. According to WHO, if 70% of patients with Ebola are cared for properly, then the epidemic could dwindle and eventually be eliminated. What’s more is that 461 Cuban physicians and nurses have taken charge in terminating the epidemic. Already 165 physicians and nurses are in Sierra Leone and 15,000 have volunteered (CNN). The UK is also conducting screening at airports receiving travelers from Africa, and Russia is working on an Ebola vaccine. The US continues their aid by sending another 700 troops by late October, in addition to the 300 already in Liberia, creating a total estimate of 4,000 soldiers fighting the battle to terminate the horror that is Ebola (CBS News). This may be the first time I applaud Obama for deploying, in a short timespan, such a large amount of soldiers. Mark Zuckergerg and his wife donated $25 million to the CDC to help fight the epidemic (Huffington Post). Worldwide collaboration is necessary to end this epidemic. Imagine if Ebola is not controlled and the numbers of patients we’re experiencing in Africa occur in say, the US or the UK? Picture millions of civilians wearing face masks and gloves, homes being evacuated, hospitals flooded and overwhelmed with possible patients, daily life and routine threatened and interrupted by this virus, that’s frightening. The effort everyone is giving to end this epidemic is admirable and honorable. However, there are others that could be reaching out as Obama said, “We have not seen other countries step up as aggressively as they need to” (USA Today). Everyone that can help should; the countries with sophisticated healthcare could send support to medical centers in Africa or help with research, individuals and companies with the ability to donate funds should and the general public should maintain up-to-date on the epidemic and pray for progress and health. This Ebola epidemic isn’t problematic solely for Africa, it’s a worldwide issue. I don’t want to one day tell my grandchildren of the Ebola epidemic that began in Africa and shook the whole world. I want to say, “we prevented it.”