Ebola causes scare

The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa has elicited some reactive fear here in America. The first cases were reported in Guinea in March, later cases were reported in Liberia and Sierra Leone. As of August 1, there have been 1,603 cases and 887 deaths. This current outbreak has become the most widespread and fatal in the disease’s recorded history.
Discovered in 1976, the Ebola virus is named for the Ebola River in the Congo where it was believed to have originated. The virus causes severe hemorrhagic fever in humans after an incubation period of several days to weeks in which the host may be contagious yet oblivious to their predicament. The disease will manifest itself through headaches, red eyes, soreness and later, internal and external bleeding.
The Ebola virus is classified as a Risk Group 4 pathogen by the World Health Organization, requiring the most extreme methods for containment.
This past week, two American Ebola patients were transported to Atlanta for treatment at the Emory University medical center. The first of these patients, a missionary doctor named Kent Brantly, arrived at Emory’s specialized isolation unit Aug. 2. The facility was designed to handle even more readily communicable diseases, such as Severe Acute Respiritory Syndrome (SARS).
Brantly’s organization, The Samaritan’s Purse, stated that he received an experimental serum which greatly improved his condition prior to transportation. Brantly’s arrival in America prompted the fears of many, but those involved are confident that there is little risk. Dr. Bruce S. Ribner, an infectious disease specialist involved in Brantly’s care, stated, “We have taken every precaution that we know and that our colleagues at the CDC know to ensure that there is no spread of this virus pathogen.”
In a nation with modern medical facilities and practices such as our own, the risk of contracting this disease is greatly diminished. Although mortality rates have generally been between 50 to 90 percent for out breaks in the past, these numbers come from considerably poorer countries than our own. Though there is no cure, the body fights off the virus naturally like any other infection. Given a well-fed and active human, the chances of recovery may be much higher.
Unlike diseases such as SARS, which made its way through national consciousness in the early 2000s, the Ebola virus is passed between victims through direct contact with bodily fluids. The virus is carried by fruit bats and other animals, and the transfer to humans generally begins when someone is unfortunate enough to eat a tainted meal. It generally cannot be transferred through the air.
From the cushioned and sanitary Washington state, it is easy for me to see the outbreak as a distant event of little personal significance. That is certainly not to say that I feel no sympathy for those caught in the eye of the storm. International quarantines have gone up around the affected nations, several doctors and medics have contracted the disease through their efforts, and those who are infected often find themselves abandoned.
The Center for Disease Control is preparing to send 50 medical professionals to the affected countries in the coming month, and many other groups, such as Doctors Without Borders, have been involved for the duration.
We will have to wait and see if the outbreak becomes intercontinental. In the meantime, it is futile to meditate on the horrible situations which may never happen.