Apart from my INCREDIBLY witty title (so, SO bad), there is nothing funny about the currentEbola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in West Africa. For those not habitually tracking global public health crises, this is one to pay attention to. I don’t care how distracted you may have been by the hot-mess-bro/slut-shaming incident on the Bachelorette. Okay, I admit I don’t watch the show (At all. Ever.) But….dude, just NO. To quote Kid President, not cool Robert Frost. I digress.
This is the largest global outbreak of EVD in recorded history and already it is nearly three times the size of the next largest outbreak, which occurred almost 15 years ago in Uganda. Over 1200 cases have been reported since March with the vast majority occurring in the past month. It is officially a pandemic, having spread across four countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Guinea) to date, which has hindered a coordinated response. This region is ripe for the transmission of disease due to environmental, political and economic conditions. People who have no clean water to drink cannot be expected to prioritize washing their hands. Fear, lack of education about the disease, and mistrust of authority has led many citizens to become suspicious of aid worker’s role in spreading Ebola and many have been targeted with violence.
Ebola is highly contagious with a long incubation period… up to three weeks. Initial symptoms are like any other flu; headache, fever, sore throat, and muscle aches but the virus eventually causes both internal and external bleeding and organ failure, leading to death in the majority of cases. In Liberia, schools and shops have closed and workers are being told to stay home. Healthcare and aid workers are extremely vulnerable, even while utilizing universal precautions (including nursing barrier garments) as they function in very close proximity to those infected with EVD. Today, the U.S. Peace Corp announced it would be evacuating hundreds of volunteers from the region, with several quarantined for observation due to suspected exposure.
There is no known cure for Ebola and the mortality rate ranges between 60-90% of those infected. Treatment includes hydration and transfusion; immediate hospitalization is critical, however, often not available in the rural and impoverished regions where the disease thrives. Vaccination is also unavailable at this time. Several pharmaceutical labs are conducting Pre-clinical and Phase 1 trials, but that generally means any potential drug is still years away. I'm sure we'll see some rogue treatment soon... desperate times.
Although in our globalized, mobile world there is a potential to see multiple outbreaks spread in a variety of places, the likelihood of seeing something like this in the U.S. (or any other Western country) is extremely low due to robust sanitation practices and access to health services. Researchers say that although the virus is deadly, it is fragile and can be killed with the use of basic soap or detergent.
However, as we know, viruses are constantly changing and mutating… there’s a reason(antigenic drift) you need a new flu shot every year to protect you from the most common 3-4 strands. Antigenic shift is a little more scary; it generally refers to the sudden mutation of a virus, creating an entirely new sub-type to which humans have little to no immunity – therefore, much more likely to lead to an epidemic.
So, don’t panic, but know your risk of exposure…specifically if you live or travel abroad or eat things like, say….under-cooked fruit bats. And pay attention to global events for Chrissake. The next season of The Voice doesn’t start until September anyway.
SB @ boozeandsweets.com