The Ebola Virus: Global Threat or False Alarm?

by Adrienne Snavely

The Ebola virus was discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River, in what is now Congo. All 25 outbreaks of human illness or death have occurred thus far in Africa. In rural areas, people live close to and often eat infected animals, such as fruit bats and monkeys. It is a rare virus. The highest risk is for healthcare workers and the family and friends of patients with Ebola. The rate of women becoming infected is passing that of men as women are the caregivers, nurses, and cross-border traders. They are also the cleaners and laundry workers in hospitals, where there is risk of exposure to infected fluids. Pregnant women are at high risk because of increased contact with health services and workers. In addition, women are used to disseminate information and awareness about the disease in their communities.

Typical symptoms of Ebola include:
· Fever (greater than 101.5 F)ebola
· Severe headache
· Muscle pain
· Weakness
· Diarrhea
· Vomiting
· Abdominal pain
· Lack of Appetite
Some patients may experience rash, red eyes, hiccups, cough, sore throat, chest pain, difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, or unexplained bleeding inside and outside of their body. Symptoms may appear 2-21 days after exposure to the virus, yet 8-10 days is most common. Most patients recover or pass away within 6-10 days of symptoms appearing. Diagnosing Ebola is difficult because the symptoms are not disease-specific, often seen with more common illnesses. If early symptoms are detected, the patient should be isolated, and samples are taken to confirm the infection. Some who become sick with Ebola are able to recover. Patients who die do not have a strong immune response to the virus.

The way the virus first appears in the human body is not known, but researchers believe that the person becomes infected through contact with an infected animal. Ebola is not spread through the air, food, or water. The virus is spread through direct contact from person to person through broken skin or mucous membranes with a sick person’s blood or body fluids or with contaminated needles that have had contact with the fluids. Ebola can spread quickly within a clinic or hospital where hospital staff is not wearing appropriate protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and gloves. Without proper sterilization of medical instruments, the virus transmission will be amplified. If sick patients must be transported, personnel wear pressurized suits and self-contained breathing apparatus, a level well above the gloves, mask, and hand washing used by hospitals.

Ebola has only experimental treatment. The care provided for an infected patient includes balancing fluids and electrolytes, maintaining oxygen and blood pressure, and treating them for any complicating infections. Timely treatment is important but challenging. Few plans for prevention have been established and no vaccine exists. Experimental treatments have been tested and proven effective in animals, but not on more than a handful of humans. Biological agents are destructive, as they keep reproducing and spreading, unlike radioactivity or chemicals, which decay. The 1918 flu epidemic resulted in “mega-deaths”. To prevent the spread of dangerous diseases and protect the health of Americans, the United States should:
· Gather a travel and exposure history from anyone with symptoms
· Develop and start using technology for screening airline passengers and persons in public places
· Make possible the use of non-approved, non-conventional therapies
· Upgrade response capabilities
· Focus research and surveillance on threats, both natural and man-made
· Secure the U. S. border
· Tell Americans the truth and protect whistleblowers
The current Ebola outbreak should serve as a wake-up call to prevent and be prepared for future disasters.

There is something much deadlier than Ebola affecting American hospitals every day: medical errors. More patients die from medical errors each year than have ever died from Ebola. Preventable medical errors cause the deaths of 44,000 to 98,000 patients each year. Since Ebola has been discovered in 1976, only 2,621 people have died from Ebola, whereas 1 to 16 million Americans have died from preventable errors caused by healthcare providers. These errors don’t get the same media attention, but are just as scary and concerning. If more attention was put on preventing errors as preventing Ebola, errors could become much less common.
“Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 Aug 2014. Web. 17 Aug 2014.
Dunn, Lindsey. “Something deadlier than Ebola, already in your hospital.” The Daily Beat Blog. Becker’s Hospital Review, 6 Aug 2014. Web. 17 Aug 2014.
Hogan, Caelainn. “Ebola striking women more frequently than men.” Health & Science. The Washington Post, 14 Aug 2014. Web. 17 Aug 2014.
“Ebola: Experimental drugs and vaccines.” Health. BBC News, 12 Aug 2014. Web. 17 Aug 2014.

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