BY KACIE GROSSMEIER
The 2014 outbreak of Ebola is the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded in history and the first outbreak of the disease occurred in West Africa. However, this is not a new virus.
The first record of the Ebola virus was in 1976 near the Ebola River in the now Democratic Republic of the Congo and over the past 40 years, the disease has steadily popped up in varying countries of Africa, most often spread by use of infected needles and syringes or through consumption of or contact with specific primates.
What makes this outbreak such a huge deal is the high number of people infected and the fact that an American contracted the virus.
I will start with the numbers. While the current virus strain is no more biologically lethal than other strains of Ebola, this outbreak first occurred in a densely populated area. This made it harder for healthcare providers such as Doctors Without Borders to conduct contact tracing and containment. This explains the rapid spread of the disease and why as of Oct. 10, the CDC reports that countries with widespread transmission (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) have 8,376 cases with 4,024 deaths.
The disease is also spreading at a higher rate in Africa because of the poor health infrastructure and inadequate supplies. Infected Africans are in unsanitary conditions, lacking clean water and the appropriate means to reduce the spread of the virus. Furthermore, due to the virus’ known lethality and the intensity with which healthcare providers must approach the disease, infected persons avoid medical help, furthering contamination.
Is America at risk? In countries with travel-associated cases (Senegal, Spain and the United States) a total of three cases and one death (American) have resulted, according to the Oct. 10 CDC report. Still, controversy about America’s safety has erupted.
Accusations have arisen such as: the government is not disclosing all information on therapeutic drugs, we need to close the United States’ borders from Africa but we cannot because that would be politically incorrect, the disease is airborne but the government is denying it, the government is more focused on international conflict than the citizens at home.
Americans love to make things about America, but there is actually a very low chance Ebola will wipe out the home of the brave.
Unlike in West Africa, we have better health protocols. Hospitals have quarantine rooms and protective supplies for healthcare providers and the ability to notify family members who have been in contact with the infected person. Equipment in these facilities is sterile and clean water is available. Hospitals—and citizens—can afford to take the preventative measures needed to inhibit the disease from transferring to other humans.
More good news: Not everyone in Africa has Ebola and not everyone who travels to and from Africa will contract the disease. Like with past Ebola outbreaks, those becoming infected are those who are in direct contact with people not just infected, but who are symptomatic. Infected persons are not contagious if they are not symptomatic.
Furthermore, the disease is not airborne. It is spread through direct physical contact with bodily fluids from an infected person.
Even if we are relatively safe, Ebola is still a big deal. The spread of the disease is a very real problem for those in West Africa and will continue to spread if a larger international response is not taken.I am no doctor, but I know a cry for humanitarian aid when I see one. If instead of panicking about our own unlikely risk, we made more of an effort to help fix issues, such as the inadequate and insufficient healthcare in West Africa that allow the spread of viruses like Ebola, we could greatly reduce the spread of this disease—at home and abroad.