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Could Ebola Become A Greater Threat Than AIDS?
All Images Courtesy of CDC Newsroom Image Library
When news of the insidious Ebola epidemic first broke in March 2014, there was scant reaction from a complacent “West”; after all this threat was happening on another continent thousands of miles away. Nevertheless apathy quickly turned into dread with the jarring death of Liberian national Eric Duncan at a Texas medical facility on October 8th. Following this ominous fatality there has been an expeditious increase in the number of Ebola false alarms culminating across the “Western Hemisphere”.
On Sunday Oct 12th the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a statement confirming rumors that a nurse who was caring for Mr. Duncan had also contracted the deadly virus. In this statement CDC Director Dr Tom Friedman blamed this latest incident on a breach of safety protocol. The contraction of Ebola on US soil is unprecedented and has done little to allay the mounting hysteria as fear grows around the world of a global catastrophe.
The Ebola virus was first discovered in South Sudan formerly part of Sudan and also in Zaire now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Like the infamous Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) virus there is as yet no known cure for Ebola.
According to a BBC Report the virus attaches itself to the lining of the victim’s respiratory tract. Eyes and body cavities invading the cells of these body parts, then using its own genetic code replicates copies of itself, which are then released back into the system. Citing information obtained from the World Health Organization (WHO), the report lists the initial symptoms as “sudden fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, and sore throat”. This is typically followed by a decreased functionality of the liver and kidneys which may also be accompanied by external bleeding and internal hemorrhaging.
As is the case with AIDS, Ebola is not an airborne disease and hence is less contagious than other forms of sickness such as the flu; and thus it is easier to contain. Infection comes through direct contact with blood and other bodily fluids or organs, otherwise it can be contracted indirectly through an infected environment. The original carriers of this disease are thought to be fruit bats, other known carriers include chimpanzees and antelope.
The virus is capable of surviving several days outside the body and therefore can be a high risk to funeral mourners of victims; therefore no direct contact should be made with an Ebola infected corpse.
There is an experimental vaccine project in operation from the US; utilizing a compound of three different monoclonal antibodies. The vaccine which is known as ZMapp is still in its infancy and works by binding to the protein of the Ebola virus.
At the time of this writing there has been no extensive human testing of the vaccine, however several doses have been administered to two infected US citizens working in Liberia. This was carried out with the help of the National Health Institute (NIH), who assisted in secretly
transporting the vaccine to their location. On August 6th the Washington Post reported that both patients appeared to have responded well to the ZMapp vaccine. The first patient Dr Kent Bradley sensed he was at the final stages of Ebola before ingesting the vaccine, however after
just one dose he was able to walk to the ambulance virtually unassisted. The second patient Nancy Writebol l (a missionary) has also made a vast improvement after taking two doses of the serum.
Encouraging as this news is, the vaccine is still in its experimental stage and until further tests have been carried out the magnitude of its efficacy cannot be determined. The manufacturers of ZMapp have indicated that all available doses have now been distributed. In planning their first phase of empirical trials the company needs to find a way of mass producing the serum.
To help people better protect themselves the CDC strongly advises against anyone traveling to high risk areas, which currently includes Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone . If travel to these countries is absolutely essential the following precautions should be taken
- Frequent washing of hands with soap and water or an alcohol based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid contact with the bodily fluids of other people (especially the sick)
- Under NO circumstances touch the dead body of an Ebola victim.
- Avoid direct contact with non human primates and do not eat anything cooked with these animals.
- Seek immediate medical attention if you start experiencing headaches, vomiting, muscle cramp, diarrhea or stomach pain.
It has also been discovered that the Ebola virus can survive for several months in the semen of recovering males, although these carriers are likely to be immune due to the number of antibodies in their system they risk infecting their sexual partners. It would therefore be prudent
to avoid unprotected casual sex with multiple partners as is also the case when seeking to minimize the risk of contracting the AIDS virus.
The magnitude of risk to humans from this recent pandemic is unclear, however studies of previous outbreaks show no evidence of the virus being transferred from a recovering patient to close contacts. There is however clear evidence that blood, vomit and fecal matter are
instrumental in the rapid spread of this disease in Liberia.
For further information regarding the Ebola virus please refer to the links provided below:
CDC Fact Sheet
Government of Saskatchewan
Ebola resource and information
Occupational Safety and Health
7 Things to know about Ebola
Cases of Ebola diagnosed in the United States
2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa
Ebola virus disease
Health and Human Services
Help stop Ebola now
Ebola resource center
MIT continues to monitor spread of Ebola
Share your thoughts with us regarding the Ebola crisis
Some questions to consider:
- Do you agree or disagree with the measures put in place to deal with the Ebola outbreak?
- Are you in fear of the spreading of the virus?
- Is the Ebola crisis affecting different aspects of your day to day life? (fear of coming in contact with someone who has the virus)
- Do you believe that the relief put in place and the countries that are involved in containing the virus is effective or do you believe more could be done?
If you would like to share your thoughts please leave a comment below.