Ebola: Microscopic Monster or just Another Swine Flu?

In just the past few months, the word “Ebola” has gone from naming a disease to inflicting fear in the hearts of millions across the country and worldwide. For the most part, I have tried to ignore the rumors in the halls and only panic in the unlikely event that I actually contracted the oh-so-deadly Ebola. However, when I began hearing tales of Ebola infecting inhabitants of Braintree and other surrounding towns, likely to reach Hanover by the end of the month, or claims that casualties of the disease were coming back to life in order to commence the zombie apocalypse, I’d had enough. I sat down with my laptop and a copy of Time Magazine and decided to get to the bottom of the enigmatic Ebola. Is the mass hysteria justified or just the media capitalizing on a serious but foreign disease? Will Ebola wipe out humanity or just be the punchline of a joke two years from now?

I began with the basics. What even is Ebola?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Ebola, previously known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a rare and deadly disease caused by infection with one of the Ebola virus strains.” There are five strains of this disease, all stemming from the Flaviviridae family, but only four of the strains are known to cause illness in humans and primates including chimps and gorillas. Each Ebola virus originated in Africa, and is mostly hosted by bats indigenous specifically to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Symptoms of the virus include fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, sore throat and intense muscle weakness. If you have any of the aforementioned conditions, ask yourself this: have you visited or shared bodily fluids with someone who visited West Africa in the past 21 days? If not, then (surprise!) your headache is probably just a headache. If you answered yes, than be on the lookout for diarrhea, vomiting, a rash, stomach pain impaired kidney, and liver function, and possible bleeding from the ears, eyes, nose or mouth. If this begins to happen, you’re pretty much a goner because Ebola is deadly in 50-90 percent of cases. The good news? If you are living in Hanover, Mass., Ebola is very unlikely to be your cause of death.

How long has Ebola been a problem?
Contrary to common belief, Ebola didn’t begin its murderous rampage in 2014. In fact, the first recorded case of this disease was in 1976 in an African hospital, where contaminated needles led to the deaths of 280 people. Every year since then, at least one person has contracted Ebola in Africa, although not all necessarily died, and in 2007 the number was as high as 187. So, Ebola is by no means a new disease,but  we Americans have just begun to care now that it has reached our shores.

That begs the question, how did Ebola get to America in the first place?
Thomas Eric Duncan was the first case diagnosed in the US, and when he passed away on October 8, he became the first to die in the country. Duncan was Liberian, and returned from his country to visit his former girlfriend and their son in Texas. A female health worker contracted the disease while treating Duncan as well, and at least three American aid workers in West Africa contracted Ebola abroad and have returned to recover. Duncan was able to pass the Ebola screening at the airport and unknowingly transport the lethal disease into the country because unless the patient is showing symptoms, Ebola is nearly impossible to identify. The passengers on the plane with Duncan are cleared of having the disease, but Duncan’s family members and especially five children he had contact with are being closely monitored for signs.

How serious really is this disease? How many people are currently diagnosed with Ebola in America, and how many have died from it?
Though there have been outbreaks of Ebola in the past, this is by far the deadliest. The 8,000 cases in West Africa, primarily in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, have resulted in over 4,000 deaths. People hear this number and ready their sterile plastic suits, but let’s take a moment to remember, this statistic applies to Africa, which has a very different level of sanitation and health care than where we live in America. To put it in perspective, here in the US the death toll of this epidemic is a grand total of 1.

But, you argue, Ebola could still spread! If it does, is there any known cure?
At the moment, there is no vaccine or medicine to combat Ebola. Experimental vaccines and treatments for Ebola are under development, but they have not yet been fully tested for safety or effectiveness. According to the CDC, the main approach to treating Ebola right now is providing intravenous fluids (IV)and balancing electrolytes (body salts), maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure, and treating other infections if they occur. Fear not, scientists in the US and Canada are rushing to develop a solution to this national problem, and Time magazine stated “…CDC leaders meet with representatives of the State Department and USAID to size up the progress-or lack thereof- and and plot their next moves.” So, while Ebola continues to be an issue, it is being handled by some of the countries’ best and brightest on a daily basis.

Ok, great, this information is interesting and all, but how likely am I to actually get Ebola?
Right now in the United States, you are about as likely to die of Ebola as you are to be struck by lightning standing upside down. That is, you probably won’t. We posses the capabilities to isolate the disease and prevent it from spreading. America’s health care workers are on high alert, and now that people know what to look for they can be treated in a sanitary environment before the virus becomes too serious. CDC director Thomas Frieden stated, “There is no doubt in my mind that we will stop it here.” America has everything it needs to fight Ebola, protocols in place, enough medical supplies and hospital beds, adequate isolation units. In short, we shouldn’t be worried for our own safety or the coming zombie apocalypse, but the very real threat of Ebola that ill-equipped West Africa is currently facing.

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2 thoughts on “Ebola: Microscopic Monster or just Another Swine Flu?”

  1. This was a calm, well-researched overview of the disease — as opposed to a lot of what we see online and in the news. It’s easy to freak out about something so deadly, but you’re right to point out that the differences in our health care system and other resources make it unlikely ebola will spread here the way it has in Africa.

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