Ebola, Facts, fears, and Fallacies

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First, Ebola is scary because it is very deadly, however it is just another virus to researchers who have been studying it since its first documented appearance in 1978.

This is a highly dangerous hemorrhagic infection with a mortality rate approaching 90% – that means 9 out of 10 people who contract it will die but keeping things in perspective, unless you are a health care worker in a few regions of Africa, there is a far greater chance that you will win a $300 million lottery than that you will ever even see an infected individual in person, let alone catch the disease.

Initial outbreaks (patient Zero in medical terms) are thought to always come from contact with a dead primate or fruit bat, either by handling the raw meat or just by picking up a dead animal to dispose of it.

Anyone who comes into contact with infected animal organs, feces, or any fluids from an infected human will likely become infected through mucous membranes or open wounds.

It is unlikely to be spread by airborne particles so an N-91 flu mask and gloves should provide sufficient protection for workers handling patients or bodies.

Person to person spread is relatively easy if unprotected and the incubation period ranges from days to weeks, meaning a person infected, perhaps in Africa, could spend another week there and still fly back to the U.S., Asia, or Europe showing no fever or other preliminary signs.

To date there have been a bit more than 1300 verified cases of Ebola infections.

Detecting an outbreak can be very difficult initially because Ebola is quite rare and at the beginning patients will have symptoms mimicking dengue fever, malaria, or even common flu.

Prevention is mainly a case of taking normal precautions – about the same level as you would use with an HIV patient. Bodies should not be embalmed and many traditional burial customs must be ignored.

There have been immunization trials in animals and a workable vaccine has been tested but it is not suitable for use in fighting an active epidemic or pandemic because it takes up to 6 months for the animal’s immunity to build up to the point where it actually provides a safeguard.

Specific treatment is non-existent for Ebola patients except those which proved effective with Cholera before specific treatments were found – that is, the patients actually die of dehydration so supportive care including massive IV push of fluids can give the body the time needed for its own immune system to fight off the infection.

WHO World Health Organization

As of August 4, 2014, 163 new cases of Ebola and 61 deaths were reported after July 31. This includes confirmed and suspected cases. These all occurred in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

While everyone is panicked by the news media reports of Ebola and the fact that two infected people were brought into the U.S. for treatment, it is important to remember that it really isn’t easy to catch Ebola, it is not airborne except in a very limited fashion – that is, if you aren’t in the same room as a patient you won’t catch it.

Certainly the two infected people being treated in Atlanta are NOT dangerous to anyone except health care workers who come into direct contact with them.

Putting things in perspective, although nearly 1300 people have died of Ebola complications in 25 years or so, nearly 40,000 people in just the U.S. die of complications from the common flu every Winter.

While Ebola is a dangerous disease, it is extremely rare and poses little or no chance of becoming a pandemic.

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John McCormick is a reporter, /science/medical columnist and finance and social commentator, with 17,000+ bylined stories. He is a 38-year member of the National Press Club, retired emergency management coordinator, physicist, and member of the AAAS. He is a senior NewsBlaze writer who writes incisive, investigative stories.