The Ebola Epidemic: What's Next?
Anya Gruber '16 News Editor
Reports have followed the Ebola epidemic the past months since its most severe outbreak centered in West Africa. Though hardly a new disease, the 2014 outbreak has been the most serious one in history. In Liberia alone, there have been 3,834 diagnosed cases of Ebola and 2,069 deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the fatality rate for Ebola is about 50%, and is higher in locations with poor sanitary conditions.
Ebola is a contagious disease that is transmitted through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, including sweat, blood and mucus. The disease cannot be spread through the air – in other words, by a sneeze – but it can be transmitted through traces of fluids on shared surfaces, such as table tops. The virus can be killed by a strong bleach solution, but resources such as this are scarce in many of the countries, rendering them more vulnerable to Ebola outbreaks.
Efforts have been made to contain the virus by screening airport passengers in West Africa before departing abroad, but some cases have been reported outside the most badly affected region. According to the organization’s website, the CDC has thousands of representatives in West Africa attending to the logistics of screening patients, providing care and organizing treatment efforts.
The CDC also has experts working on drugs and vaccines to cure, prevent or otherwise treat Ebola. So far, one experimental drug called ZMapp has been produced but has not been widely administered.
Thomas Eric Duncan, man in Dallas, Texas, became ill two weeks after arriving back in the United States following a trip to Liberia. As of Sunday, Oct. 5, he was in critical condition in a hospital in Dallas, with his condition worsening. Several people who came into contact with the patient were quarantined, but so far none have shown any signs of having contracted the virus, as of Oct. 5. According to the Chicago Tribune, Duncan has not been given the experimental ZMapp because its effectiveness is questionable, and his doctors and family decided not to try it.
Though there have been others who have had the Ebola virus while in the United States, Duncan’s is the first case to actually be diagnosed in the United States. Duncan’s case fuels the public’s increasing fear of a possible outbreak in this country, though President Obama recently stated that “there is no country better prepared” to ward off an epidemic. According USA Today, Obama has sent thousands of troops to West Africa to offer support and help combat the disease. In the wake of the case, airports have tightened their security and screening.
The United States has a strong healthcare system with world-renowned hospitals, as well as sanitary conditions, which would limit the spread of the virus. However, public health officials were under fire when Duncan was eventually hospitalized because hospital staff did not initially recognize the condition as Ebola.
A panel here at Smith held by the Lewis Global Studies Center last month stressed that the virus would be more easily controlled if the sanitary conditions were improved in West Africa with universal access to hospital beds and clean water, the situation would likely not be this serious.