Ebola: Disseminating Fact from Fiction

EBOLA. The headlines scream the diagnosis of each new or suspected case at the top of every hour. The increasingly dire updates on the status of Patient zero, currently being treated in a Texas hospital is not favorable as are the growing number of people who may have been exposed. Ebola, a virus so highly virulent and fatal that even the very word is enough to strike terror in our hearts. Until recently, our sympathies were with the people of Central and West Africa whose populations have been ravaged with the current outbreak. But, somehow we felt coccooned and buffeted on the reassurance that an outbreak in the United States was, “highly unlikely.” 

We as a people and I mean those countries who have not dealt with the ebolavirus before no longer have the luxury of thinking this way. Ebola is here and we must deal with this crisis. And this reality can be frightening to you and your family. Our government wants to calm and allay our fears, but, in truth, we don’t really know the direction this current outbreak will take us. We are in unchartered territory and despite the reassurance of the CDC, I think its important to deal in the facts of this particulary virulent disease. Knowlege is the first step to prevention and containment, the hallmark of dealing effectively with all contagious outbreaks.

FACT: Ebola was first diagnosed in 1967 in Zaire(formerly the Congo) and was thought to have been transmitted by jungle bats. These areas were sparsely populated and the virus did not spread with any significance. Fast forward to modern day with the porous borders amongst adjoining countries and ebola has spread throughout central and Western Africa.

FACT: Over 6000 people have succumbed to the virus this year along with a predicted number of up to 1.4 million by January. 

For starters, the virus had a three month head start in the countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone before realization of an outbreak and containment protocols were instigated. And it wasn’t until August that our own government issued a public health emergency statement on ebola giving the current outbreak a full five month headstart overwhelming the standard protocol of containment. And even then, the solution was to issue a travel warning but not banning flights in and out of the country. This delay in acknowleging and containing the outbreak has in my humble opinion led us to where we are today with suspected ebola cases popping up in our health care facilities. 

FACT: Ebola has affected a record number of health care workers in the epicenters of the outbreak leaving the ratio of health careworkes to patients 1:6000. Fear and suspicion of health care facilities, the belief that no one will be there to care for them, lack of education on hygienic practices to contain viral spread and the handling and disposal of infected corpses are some of the factors facing the overwhelmed and outnumbered medical teams in these ebola-ravaged areas. Add to the number of population facing poverty, malnutrtion and the struggling, emerging economies of the countries left to deal with this crisis are being decimated.

FACT: Ebola is one of two deadly hemorrhagic diseases of the filovirus, (single fliament strand of negative RNA) the other being the Marburg virus. Ebola virus has five known species and only one, Ebola-Reston is not harmful to humans. Marburg and ebola are both hemorrhagic viruses with the animal vector of infected bats and monkeys as the original hosts. Transmission to humans is zoonotic and infected humans transmit the virus from the exposure of infected blood and body secretions. According to the CDC, ebola is not an airborne virus but can live for several days on porous, hard surfaces. It is sensitive to light and low humidity. This is the main reason why sub-saharan countries in South Africa have not been affected along with their stringent border security. Although, not airborne, transmission may occur when an ebola patient sneezes or coughs and the droplets hit the eyes and mucous membranes of the nose or mouth of another person. However, the droplets cannot live suspended in air. Common household bleach can be used to kill the virus on hard surfaces as well as other germicidal cleansing agents.

FACT: There is no definitve cure for Ebola virus or Marburg virus. Standardized treatment is limited to supportive care. The onset of symptoms can occur up to 21 days post exposure and include:

  • Fever, sore throat, muscle pain and severe headache.
  • Vomiting, diarrhea andhemorrhagic rash
  • Progressive symptons include liver and kidney failure and internal bleeding.

Early recognization and supportive care to maintain hydration, nutritional and organ support yield the best chance of survival.

FACT: There are a number of researchers racing to formulate a defintive treatment and or vaccination. The recent treatment of two medical aid workers who recieved the experimental drug ZMapp has shown the most promising results. ZMapp is produced when a genetically modified virus is injected into the tobacco plant. The plant produces antibodies and once the leaves yellow and start to dry are harvested. Each plant can produce dozens of doses but it can take up to 6 months to produce.
FACT: There are a number of alterative treatments that have been touted on the internet. Some studies are looking at validity of garcinia kola (the nuts from a tree found in Africa) and commonly used in the traditional West African folk medicine. Other alternative therapies include; colloidal silver, rattlesnake venon and genistein, a plant compound found in soy-based products. The efficasy of these treatments have not been verified.

So, now that you know the facts, you probably are not feeling too reassured.  Supposedly, we are prepared to initiate containment protocols but the recent case of the Texas hospital not recognizing a patient with ebola symptoms and instead sending him home to expose a growing number of other people is not a good indication in our readyness protocol. 

And you are probably wondering why I am feeding into the media frenzy. Because, I believe that knowlege is power and learning from our mistakes can help us re-evaluate our current policies and make effective changes.

The human immune system is a wondrous thing. It is the best line of defense we have. Keeping yourself healthy by good hygiene, good nutrition and exercise are all simple measures. Vitamin C supplements or a diet high in Vitamin C can produce antibodies to boost our immune system naturally. Know the signs and symptoms. The world is increasingly global, and we must learn to adapt in order to surive these challenges.

Be aware, be informed and Bee-the-Change! 

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