Lethal Ebola Virus Outbreak: Your Questions Answered

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Do you know someone with questions about Ebola virus? Image by Decoded Science.

What does the Ebola outbreak mean for the U.S., what’s different about this outbreak, and should you be worried?

2014 Ebola Outbreak: What’s Different?

The usually self-contained, scattered and rural-based Ebola virus outbreak reached three West African cities ( Freetown, Sierra Leone; Conakry, Guinea and Monrovia, Liberia) in early 2014  and is now festering in teeming filthy slums where hundreds died of cholera in 2013.  What else is different about this Ebola outbreak?

  • This is the first time Ebola has struck these regions.
  • The usual locations in the Congo river basin, including Uganda in 2012, have been bypassed.
  • The number of deaths in rural areas was previously less than 20. This outbreak, however, is fully and completely out of control.

Unfortunately, this Ebola outbreak retains a devastating similarity to the usual outbreaks: the 60 – 90% fatality rate. Health officials use isolation tented areas away from cities to deal with those infected with Ebola virus.

Containing Ebola: Relatives, Health Care Workers

When someone has any contact  with an infected victim, even after death, that person must be monitored for the virus. This creates a huge pool of potentially-infected people to track.

For example: If the 700 ebola virus deceased contacted 100 relatives and health workers each, which is quite feasible, then 70,000 people must be isolated.

In Sierra Leone, Dr. Khan died of Ebola after contacting at least 30,000 patients. That means health officials must monitor and isolate 100,000 individuals – an impossible task.

There’s a 21 day incubation period, during which an apparently healthy individual can end up bleeding profusely from every orifice. The concept is tragic and difficult for health workers to deal with, yet, WHO international medical practice requires those infected -and those who were in close contact with them- to be kept in isolation until the incubation period elapses.

This is impossible. And so the virus spreads.

The WHO described the response by Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone as wholly inadequate, and declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as a Global Public Health Emergency, August 8, 2014. This action will shut down at least  three West African countries, in hopes of isolating the outbreak.

Ebola Outbreak: Quarantine

The situation is dire in Sierra Leone with at least 932 dead from ebola virus as of August 7, 2014. Dealing with returning aid workers requires quarantine back in the United States.

A US doctor who volunteered to work with MSF in Guinea for two weeks in May/June 2014 described dealing with ebola sufferers whilst clad in a plastic mesh suit with goggles and a hood in 35 degree Celsius heat and 90% humidity – and witnessing a mother and son who died within 24 hours of each other without the benefit of a human touch.

Such US doctors, or European medical personnel, returning from ebola risk areas in West Africa should be quarantined.

Currently two US medical professional who contracted ebola virus whilst working with ebola victims in West Africa have been transferred to Atlanta, Georgia, USA where both are being treated with monoclonal antibodies, and fortunately are responding to treatment.

Aid workers struggle are struggling to contain the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, West Africa. Image courtesy of the U.S. CDC.

Ebola Questions and Answers

The Ebola outbreak has many people asking questions. Let’s provide some answers:

How do healthcare workers catch Ebola, since they’re wearing protective gear? Doctors and nurses succumb to ebola, despite full body cover, when they scratch an itch by moving their goggles or by exposing their forearms, and so on.

How is Ebola transmitted? Can you catch Ebola if someone sneezes on you? Ebola is not transmitted through sneezing- an aerosol – but only through touching the body fluids of an infected person.

Are there any treatments for Ebola other than supportive care?

Currently, 2 US health workers with Ebola are responding to monoclonal antibody treatment in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Monoclonal antibodies are lab-produced, and engineered to attack a specific type of cell.

Is Ebola contained, or has it spread beyond Africa?

There are 4 known Ebola sufferers located outside Africa. One Ebola victim, contracted in Sierra Leone, died in Saudi Arabia last weekend, marking the first death from Ebola outside Africa. In addition, a Spanish priest, an ebola victim, was transferred from Sierra Leone to Madrid Spain last weekend.

What Kind of Virus is Ebola?

The ebola virus is a filovirus; it looks like a piece of string, or filament. Ebola originates from the ubiquitous African fruit bat and is a zoonosis – that’s an animal virus that can transfer to humans. Ebola is self-limiting – not considered a ‘successful’ virus, because it kills the host. Eventually, Ebola will run out of victims.

Will Ebola mutate to become more successful, and decimate the population?

Ebola does not mutate.

Could Ebola be a Biological Weapon? 

The United States retains ebola virus at Level P4 Laboratories where only the most trusted virologists are allowed access to the virus. Russia has a vaccine from the antibodies generated by survivors of ebola virus. These two facts confirm Ebola virus could be used as a bio-weapon.

What Will Ebola Mean for the United States and Europe?

The U.S. and U.K. public health systems maintain a state of readiness to prepare for potential outbreaks of high-priority biological agents rarely seen – including Category A diseases like Ebola, Smallpox, and the Black Plague – before an outbreak ever actually arises.

High-priority agents include organisms considered a risk to national security. How could illness become a national security risk? These are the diseases that can be transmitted from person to person and result in high mortality rates – this set of circumstances could potentially cause public panic and require special action for public health preparedness.

Here’s the bottom line: The robust US and EU health systems can deal with Ebola. Isolation of the Ebola-struck areas, and quarantine of everyone who comes in contact with an Ebola victim will ensure that the outbreak doesn’t extend to other nations.

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