Concerns about the Ebola virus in West Africa heighten as the outbreak continues to kill hundreds of people and sicken thousands. The virus is rapidly outpacing the response as more than half of all infected people have died in the current outbreak. Due to the severity of the situation, the World Health Organization began a two day emergency meeting in Geneva to determine if the outbreak should be considered a public-health emergency.
How Does the Ebola Virus Spread?
Ebola can be contracted from direct contact with the blood or other bodily fluids of an infected individual. The disease, however, does not easily spread. Hypothetically, if you were sickened with Ebola and continued your daily routine, you would likely infect roughly one to two people. This fact leads many researchers to wonder why Ebola has caused this rapid spread. Upon further investigation, many have concluded that the main reason for the outbreak might just be a lack of medical resources.
The African Health Worker’s Struggle
Overworked hospitals are struggling to control the Ebola outbreak since there still isn’t an official cure for it. Many hospital workers have contracted the disease, and as a result, more workers are desperately needed. Most medical staff are poorly equipped, low paid, and insufficiently prepared to handle this crisis.
The only known Ebola patients in the U.S. are Nancy Writebol, an American aid worker, and Dr. Kent Brantly, another medical doctor. They contracted the virus in Liberia and are being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, GA. On August 1, the Centers for Disease Control Prevention in Atlanta advised hospitals to be on alert for more aid workers once the spread was detected. Healthcare workers were warned to watch for possible symptoms in patients who had traveled in the last 21 days to countries where the outbreak is evident. This high alert was deemed necessary mainly because it is not clear how the two patients became infected. The hospital where Writebol and Brantly worked followed proper procedures where the workers always wore hazmat suits when handling patients.
Is the Virus Spreading in America?
The notion of the virus spreading outside of West Africa is a primary concern. Especially since places like Liberia are already on high-alert with smaller outbreaks being detected in the area.
In a separate case, tests were being performed on a patient at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. The patient had recently traveled to West Africa and was experiencing a high fever and gastrointestinal symptoms. It has become difficult for hospitals to determine which feverish patients should be treated as Ebola suspects since early symptoms like fever, aches, and nausea can be easily confused for a range of less-deadly viruses. Complicating the matter even further, a person who has contracted Ebola can take as long as two weeks to show any real symptoms.
After further inspection, the New York City Health Department concluded that it was unlikely the patient contracted that specific virus.
The U.S. will continue to work and develop results that will stop and prevent further outbreaks. President Barack Obama told reporters at the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit that the U.S. is working with Africa to combat Ebola, “What we do know is that the Ebola virus…is controllable if you have a strong public-health infrastructure in place.” The Summit will continue to create joint efforts to bolster peace and security.
Efforts to Stop Ebola
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the emergency use of an Ebola virus test since there are no current agency-approved tests that are able to quickly detect Ebola.
Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. is also trying to work with the FDA to make a treatment known as ZMapp, widely available once it is determined to be safe. Testing for the treatment is underway and has even been distributed to the two Americans who were infected with the disease. With luck, there is a chance that a treatment for the Ebola virus will be developed and on the market soon.