It’s a virus that’s devastating West Africa. And recently despite our best attempts to prevent it from happening here, documented cases are now showing up in the United States. In most cases it can be fatal and it is claiming the lives of thousands in West Africa.
So why isn’t it a big deal?
Ebola virus, formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever is certainly a deadly disease. With an average mortality rate of about 50% the recent epidemic(the largest and most complex in history) in West Africa has brought the disease into the limelight.
First discovered in 1976, limited outbreaks of the virus have occurred in the past, however this is the largest outbreak in history and the first true epidemic of this virus.
According to the World Health Organization when a patient becomes infected they may not develop symptoms for anywhere from 2 to 21 days. At this point they are unable to spread the disease. It is only when a patient is showing symptoms that they become contagious and can infect others.
Some early Ebola symptoms are similar to influenza, which is part of what makes the disease dangerous. After the initial incubation period people who have been infected begin displaying more serious symptoms. Some those include vomiting, diarrhea and in some cases internal and external bleeding.
The disease is spread through contact with blood or other bodily fluids. Contact with these fluids while someone is showing symptoms is the only way to contract the virus. Period.
To put it in perspective there have only been about four cases of people in the United States contracting it. Kim Kardashian has married as many people as this disease has infected.
And yes, this is the disease that just caused New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to declare anyone who had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa to stay at home for 21 days. While it sounds like a good idea at first(of course you should separate those who are most at risk of having the disease), it’s a policy based more out of fear than on actual science.
Those bodily fluids mentioned earlier? Blood, feces, urine, diarrhea, vomit, sweat, breast milk and semen are not the sort of substances a person encounters in everyday life. Ebola isn’t the type of disease spread by casual coughing like the flu. The people most at risk from the disease are the brave healthcare workers who are treating patients day in and day out here in the U.S., and most certainly in West Africa.
“It’s really hard to catch unless you are right on top of the patient. And at that point they are obviously very sick.” said Amanda Perez, a nurse who works in NYC.
The response to the confirmed cases of Ebola here in the U.S. have been dealt with swiftly. In Dallas, Texas nurse Nina Pham contracted the disease after treating an infected patient who had come from Liberia. Her and another nurse who contracted the disease have both made full recoveries.
A third more recent and closer case occurred in NYC. Doctor Craig Spencer was a volunteer for Doctors Without Borders who caught Ebola while overseas, treating a patient. Spencer and the other two nurses were immediately put into quarantine and at this time there has yet to be another case reported. And this is despite the fact that one of the nurses travelled to Cleveland and Spencer went bowling, went to various other places in N.Y.C. using the subway while he was infected but not showing symptoms. So far though there have been no more domestic cases besides those who have flown in from West Africa.
As of today there is no vaccine for Ebola. Care for the patients consists of supportive treatments such as rehydration, balancing electrolytes and treating secondary infections as they come up. There are also experimental drugs that are used as treatments but none have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
So far patients have been receptive to such treatments and while the danger will always be there American hospitals should be able to handle the cases that do make it to the shores of the U.S.