Now that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has jumped overseas, The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the epidemic an international health emergency.
The virus has already spread throughout Guinea, Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and more than 900 people have died. WHO insists that support from other countries are needed to stop the virus. There have also been confirmed cases in Saudi Arabia, Asia, and even here in the United States.
“The possible consequences of further international spread are particularly serious in view of the virulence of the virus, the intensive community and health facility transmission patterns, and the weak health systems in the currently affected and most at-risk countries,” a WHO representative said. “A coordinated international response is deemed essential to stop and reverse the international spread of Ebola.”
Even though the confirmed cases resulting in death have all been overseas, diagnosed instances and alleged cases in the past week have raised concern. There are two American patients with confirmed Ebola diagnoses at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital who are being monitored for signs of progression. In New York, an American man was put in isolation at Mount Sinai Hospital and tested for the virus after returning to the States with possible Ebola symptoms from a trip to West Africa. The New York patient’s test results for the virus were found negative.
While reports about U.S. cases are all over the news, WHO says that misinformation about the virus and its affects is causing more harm than good. WHO Assistant Director for health security Dr. Keiji Fukuda says that while Ebola is infectious, it can also be contained.”What (misinformation) is doing is that it helps foster suspicion and anxiety in communities,” he said. “and when that happens we see a situation where people are reluctant to go to health facilities or maybe reluctant to bring their family members there. And it underscores the importance of communities being aware and understanding, but we also see that fear impacts other countries.”
Here are key facts about the virus, and how it’s spread, from the World Health Organization’s website:
- Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans.
- EVD outbreaks have a case fatality rate of up to 90%.
- Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals.
- Ebola then spreads in the community through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids.
- Burial ceremonies in which mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased person can also play a role in the transmission of Ebola.
- Health-care workers have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed.
- It is not always possible to identify patients with EBV early because initial symptoms may be non-specific.
- Men who have recovered from the disease can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery from illness.
- Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. No licensed specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals.
Despite those facts, it’s time to clear up a few possible myths about Ebola, especially now that official statements on the crisis have been released:
1. “Oh my God! We’re all going to die from the people walking around with Ebola.”
Well, unless you’re in close contact with an infected person’s blood or secretions, you won’t be infected. Since the two cases in Atlanta are being closely monitored, it is possible that the virus can remain quarantined. Dr. JayVarkay, a doctor at Emory Hospital, where the patients are in care, says: “The whole idea is frequent monitoring, excellent nursing, frequent vital signs, and then treating problems as they arise.”
2. “I’m never getting on a plane again. Ebola may be in the plane!”
While the cases concerning Ebola-infected Americans returning to the states are plausible, it’s unlikely that plane passengers can contract the disease. “This is not an airborne transmission,” said Dr. Marty Cetron, director of CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine. “There needs to be direct contact frequently with body fluids or blood.”
3. “There will never be any drugs to treat Ebola and we’re all going to die!”
Experimental drugs are being made and one drug, called ZMapp, was even used to treat the two patients at Emory. ZMapp was reportedly never tested on humans before it was given to the patients, but the drug yielded positive results when it was tested on monkeys. In addition, the U.S. National Institute of Health reportedly awarded a $28 million grant to researchers who are working on antibodies that will possibly treat Ebola cases. “Researchers are eager to figure out which combinations are most effective and why,” a news release about the grant said.
It is worth noting that this isn’t the first time there has been an Ebola outbreak in the world. The virus first appeared as an outbreak in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976. WHO has also declared similar international emergencies for the swine flu pandemic in 2009 and for polio in May. For the most part, the United States lived through the scares and were just fine.