In March of 2014 the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the outbreak of Ebola in Guinea. Subsequently, the disease spread to Guinea’s bordering countries; primarily Sierra Leone and Liberia. Then it spread to Nigeria and Senegal, and a few cases were imported to Spain and the U.S. by way of missionary work in certain parts of Africa. It was during this spread outside of Africa that mass media coverage became frenzied and Americans flew into a panic. People were calling for closed borders, African immigrants were being ridiculed, heated racial debates surrounding Zmapp arose, and people on a whole were afraid of it hitting their city. Then all of a sudden there was quiet, so what happened to Ebola? Well, nothing happened to it, it’s still there as it’s been for about 4 decades since its first reported outbreak in 1976. Ebola has actually broken out 16 times since, the difference now is that this outbreak is the largest outbreak of Ebola ever. Contrary to popular belief it is actually the first outbreak of Ebola in West Africa! Never before had it broken out in such populated regions; allowing for it to be more easily spread.
What is Ebola?
Ebola is a virus in the family of Filoviridae along with Marbug virus, that causes Hemorrhagic Fever. The virus leads to hemorrhaging by causing the body to lose the ability for your blood to clot, through multiorgan damage and drop in blood pressure. There are actually several Ebola viruses: Sudan Ebola, Zaire Ebola, Cote D’Ivoire Ebola, and Bundibugyo Ebola. They are all distinct species of Ebolavirus. The virus got its name from a small river in northwestern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
In 1976 the first cases of Ebola were documented in Sudan and DRC (formerly Zaire), regions of Central Africa; where it is endemic. Then came Cote D’Ivoire Ebola in 1994; a third species. The latest type of Ebola to emerge was Bundibugyo Ebola in 2007. All of these species of Ebola are known to cause Hemorrhagic fever in humans and non-human primates. There is another Ebola virus called Reston Ebola virus that unlike the others is not known to infect humans, and originates outside of Africa. Found in the Philippines, Reston Ebola infects monkeys and pigs. The recent 2014 outbreak was caused by Zaire Ebola, one of the most deadly forms.
Myths and Misunderstanding
Some people mistake Ebola for an airborne disease because of how easily it is transmitted. However, it is can only be contracted through direct contact with an infected person bodily fluid such as blood, saliva, nasal discharge, and even semen.
Since it is spread through bodily fluid, another misconception is that the virus is like HIV; the two viruses are not related in any way. Ebola can kill you in a matter of days to weeks, HIV cannot. HIV is primarily spread through sexual intercourse or must enter your bloodstream (needle-use) in order for you to be infected. Ebola can be transmitted via oral administration, such as eating raw or undercooked meat from bats, which act as a reservoir for the virus.
A major controversy arose after the investigational vaccine ZMAPP was administered to Kent Brantly, MD. Many people feared that the government or pharmaceutical companies were withholding a cure from the general public. After a black man seeking treatment fled to the U.S. died from the infection, some people claimed he was denied the vaccine because of his race, and further erroneous claims came forth that the vaccine only works in caucasians. Three Liberian doctors also received the investigational vaccine, one still died. There are no current preventative or curative medicines against Ebola approved for human use.
The Majority of victims of this latest Ebola outbreak were in West Africa. As of October 2014, according to WHO 8,914 infections had been documented and of those 4,447 were fatal. Ebola remains a global public health threat due to lack of treatment and it being a “high-mortality” disease. In previous decades, because outbreaks were rare and confined to remote areas there was little interest by companies to undergo the costly development of a vaccine. However, with increasing and recurring resurgences, the possibility of imported infections, and the potential misuse of the virus as a bioterrorist agent, several pharmaceutical companies are in the early stages of developing a treatment for Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever. The best method of control is to confine the disease when it presents itself , treat the symptoms and supply supportive care to patients, and educate public health officials and agencies on methods to mitigate the spread of the virus. Isolating infected persons, disinfecting the environment, and using personal protective equipment while treating Ebola cases is what’s recommended by the Center for Disease Control. Ebola continues to pose little threat to Americans.