The Ebola Scare

“What you need to know”

The movie “Outbreak” was certainly one that had me sitting up wide-eyed and biting my nails. As I medical doctor the scenario was too real for comfort and had me thinking “was if?” this epidemic happened here. What have we learnt from the recent past of disease outbreaks?

Why do viruses have the potential to spread so fast?

Viruses are sub-microscopic organisms which are much smaller than bacteria. Viruses affect both plants and animals and can lead to deadly diseases. The common cold and flu are caused by viruses. Even with so many amazing advancements in medicine, there is still no cure for the common cold. In the case of the flu, there is no one vaccine that can protect us from the constantly changing seasonal flu virus.

Medical scientists have been warning for some time now that any new (or relatively new) viruses which can be easily spread by close contact or are air borne, have the potential to trigger a global epidemic/pandemic. This is so because of global travel and movement of goods.

Where did the Ebola virus originate from?

It is thought that the Ebola virus originated from the fruit bat. The fruit bat has infected other animals including primates. Humans have been coming in closer contact with wild life and have even developed the taste for ‘bush meat’. In some cultures, the brain of the monkey is a delicacy. Each time a virus jumps from a species to another it undergoes what is called amplification. The virus mutates and becomes better adapted so that it can be transmitted.

What can I do to keep safe?

Hand washing is still your best defense especially after being out in public, in the work place, riding on the public transportation, or if you have been in contact with an ill person.

In the West African countries where there is a full blown epidemic, the advices being given include:

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons - Ebola virus particles.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons – Ebola virus particles.

For communities

  • No funeral rituals for persons who have died from the dreaded disease
  • Absolutely no contact with the diseased
  • Patients are isolated and treated in hospital or field hospitals

For healthcare workers

  • There is strict adherence to infection control
  • Personal protection equipment must be worn by those who are caring for the ill.
  • There must be careful disposal of the medical waste and soiled linen of the patient

How to deal with the fear and high levels of anxiety around you

The outbreak is in three main countries in West Africa: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. These countries have had civil unrest and wars for several years which left the economies and the social structures severely weakened including the healthcare system. This has partially contributed to why the Ebola epidemic has been spreading. Another huge contributor is the cultural practice of dealing with the dead.

Cases of Ebola that have been reported outside of West Africa have been “imported”. This means that an infected but “well” individual has travelled to another country where he or she then becomes ill. Remember you can only become infected if you came in contact with the body fluids of an Ebola patient or in contact with the soiled clothes or bed linens.

For this reason, healthcare workers are at risk but armed with the knowledge and the skill to prevent the transmission of the Ebola virus they are better armed.

We must take careful note of what is happening around us and inform ourselves about the epidemic, the disease condition, treatment and knowing the risks.

The Readers Bureau Contributor

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