Ebola Debunked

By Aakshi Agarwal

Ebola seems to be the word of the year as the virus makes its rounds in West Africa and beyond. With notoriety comes a mass amount of misconceptions to debunk and meddle through, even for a virus. Nearly 5,000 West Africans have died from the deadly strain of Ebola virus which progresses into Ebola Virus Disease.

It is believed that the epidemic in West Africa began when workers in charge of disposing bodies of patients staged a strike. With carcasses rotting on the street, it is no wonder that the virus spread like wildfire. A common misconception stirring fear in Americans is that Ebola is airborne. However, the Ebola virus spreads through bodily fluids. Put simply, the blood, sweat, or urine of an infected person would have to contact the eyes, mouth, nostrils, ears, genital area or an open wound of another person. Moreover, to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus to hospital care workers, Western countries have implemented extreme precautions such as heavy face masks, gloves, and isolation units.

Furthermore, anxiety in American hearts has only risen with the misconception that Ebola is an epidemic all across Africa. However, Ebola is only an epidemic in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Outside of West Africa, Ebola is known to be contained in the United States, Spain and Mali.

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An illustration of the epidemic of Ebola in Africa compared with the overall size of Africa.

Perhaps the most dangerous myth is that healthcare volunteers returning to the United States put the country at risk of an epidemic. Withal, healthcare is significantly worse in West Africa than the United States. Dr. Daniel Bausch, a virus expert, strongly disagrees with the myth. He states, “You go to a hospital in Sierra Leone or Liberia, and it’s not unusual for a healthcare worker to say, ‘We don’t have gloves.’ Or, ‘We don’t have clean needles.’ All of the large outbreaks of Ebola or its sister virus, Marburg, happen in places where social and political unrest over the years have decimated the public health system.”

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Healthcare precautions taken by volunteer workers of Doctors Without Borders in West Africa.

Currently, there is no cure or antibiotics to treat Ebola. Antibiotics cure bacterial infections. Ebola is a viral infection that lacks a vaccine. Infected persons in the United States have been receiving antibodies designed to block the virus. While the experimental method is not a medication and there are no conclusive results, it appears that the experimental method is working.

Startling rumors of bleeding from orifices and organ liquefying appeared as early as the 1980’s. Ebola symptoms include bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Nevertheless, the bleeding only occurs in 20% of cases. Additionally, the body’s organs are not liquefied. Ebola virus causes multi-organ failure and shock.  The virus migrates from the infected area to the lymph system from which it travels to the liver, spleen and adrenal gland. It also causes lymphocytes (white blood cells) to undergo programmed cell death. Ebola then triggers the release of pro-inflammatory proteins. These proteins then lead to leaking and multi-organ failure.

Masses seem to follow the belief that this is the first major outbreak of Ebola. While the current epidemic is the largest in history, it is not the first. Ebola virus was first diagnosed in humans in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976. In fact, Ebola derives its name from the Ebola River. In 1976, Ebola had an 88% fatality rate. In time, various strains have appeared throughout Africa.

In conclusion, it is important to be wary of Ebola by taking proper precautions. However, education on Ebola can help to contain the virus and cease the widespread hysteria seen across the country. Resorting to violent acts and extreme measures will only worsen the state of the epidemic by drawing attention away from medical research.

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