Ebola—Should we be fearful?

By: Bridget Creel—Special Report Summer Associate

Flying to and from West Africa introduces new concerns for travelers as the Ebola epidemic continues to fester throughout Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.  

Although the CDC announced that there is little risk for Americans, people cancelled their travel plans when Liberian government official Patrick Sawyer died from the virus after travelling from Liberia to Nigeria last week. Worry among the people intensifies in Minnesota, where Sawyer’s family lives. 

The outbreak first emerged in March, with a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) announcing 86 suspected cases and 59 deaths. According to a report released on Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Ebola virus disease (EVD) has killed 660 people.

Even though the virus has not been spotted in the United States, the consequences of Ebola in Africa have quickly startled the attention of Americans.

Ebola is first transmitted from infected animals to humans. Then, the virus is spread between humans through contact with blood or bodily fluids. The symptoms of the virus may include muscle pain, headache, vomiting, diarrhea and internal/external bleeding.

Interestingly enough, it can take up to 21 days after exposure for symptoms to surface. With fatality rates up to 90%, there is timely pressure to find a cure for this illness. So, why is obtaining a resolution so difficult?

First and foremost, Ebola is caused by a virus, not bacteria. This means that the Ebola virus found in the body consists of small molecules, which are difficult for doctors to target for treatment. Due to the high mortality rate, the tests conducted are limited and can only be carried out in a safe and secure environment.

Currently, there have been no signs of controlling the disease because doctors are more focused on instantly treating patients, instead of long term prevention. Treatment for patients who have contracted Ebola typically consists of general remedies, meaning hydration and maintenance of proper blood and oxygen levels. In order to keep Ebola from further dispersing, it is required that patients be isolated from others. Still, that does not stop concerned families from taking care of their sick relatives, or burying contaminated bodies, which enhances disease spread and mortality rate.

Proper precautions must be taken in West Africa to guarantee that the disease can be confined, treated and not transmitted to any other countries. Health workers who are treating the disease are extensively trained and taking cautious measures such as wearing several layers of protective clothing and masks. However, that has not stopped two American health workers from catching the virus, and several doctors from dying.