To the Editor:
Ebola is spreading to epidemic proportions in West Africa. There are no uncontrolled cases of Ebola in the U.S. In spite of this, it is the people of Africa who need to worry more, and Americans who need to worry less. However, the virus is not taken nearly seriously enough by the people of West Africa.
“Two Americans infected with Ebola virus,” blared the headlines.
Scenes of Dr. Kent Brantly and Dr. Nancy Writebol walking from plane to ambulance to be taken to their controlled cells were plastered over the media for days. Expert after expert spoke about the deadliness of the virus. In a time of many crises (Crimean conflict, ISIS takeover of Iraq, Ferguson, Mo.), Ebola manages to remain on blast as one of the most
important current events to Americans.
In a Vice documentary, a Liberian man takes a bite of what appears to be a cooked bat. While chewing, he responds to the cameraman’s question as to whether he is worried that the bat may be carrying Ebola with, “We do not believe that Ebola is real.” Later in the documentary, another Liberian states that Ebola is a government conspiracy to get their
money. Perhaps these men are not representative of the whole population. But the fact is that animals like monkeys and bats that are found already dead (referred to as “bush meat”) represent part of the Liberian diet. These animals are some of the primary carriers of Ebola.
It is also a fact that a mob of Liberians armed with clubs raided an Ebola clinic, looting bed sheets and other possibly infected items, as well as freeing at least 17 infected patients.
The videos of people in large, bulky containment suits aiding a sick patient walking from one sterilized vehicle to another can be a sign of how petrifying the idea of the Ebola virus being in America is. It looks just like a scene out of Contagion or any other popular pandemic book or movie. Really though, it should be representative of just how under control the virus is, and would be even were it to reach the mainland U.S. in larger quantities. Around the time that Dr. Brantly touched down in the U.S., there were multiple other “Ebola scares” around the country. Each and every one of these cases turned out to be nothing more than a fever. Still, the patients stayed multiple nights in quarantine just as a precaution.
This stark contrast is why Ebola is such a huge issue in West Africa, but could never spread nearly as quickly in America. Although America has areas that are much more densely populated, Ebola must be transferred through contact to bodily fluids. This is a much greater issue in Liberia, where it is customary to clean the bodies of the deceased. Their method of cleaning bodies exposes more people to the virus than if proper care were taken. It has been shown that any case of Ebola in the United States will be handled with extreme caution.
While some West African doctors might be treating patients in little to no protective clothing, any American that was even near an Ebola patient would be outfitted in a full hazmat suit.
The United States government has experience dealing with potential outbreaks of hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola. The Reston Virus, a different strain of Ebola, was discovered in 1990. At the time, it was only present in a certain type of monkey. Whether it could infect humans was unknown. While studying the liver of a dead monkey, a researcher cut himself, and was exposed to the virus. Thanks to the general paranoia and health consciousness of the American public, this is very near to a worst-case-scenario. Luckily, the researcher was not infected, and it was determined that the Reston Virus was not dangerous to humans. Even if humans were susceptible to the disease, a maximum of
one person would have been infected.
An interesting thing to note about future outbreaks in Western Africa is the fact that after a person has been infected with the Ebola Virus once, they can never contract it again. This is important to the future of the disease in that area because after a large outbreak such as this one, many of the people who were capable of carrying the disease before the outbreak can no longer contract or spread the virus. And then they can help those who become ill. Another gruesome characteristic of the virus that actually helps prevent its spread is how quickly it can kill a host.
While more advanced science and medicine are important, the key factor that differentiates Liberia and the United States in terms of vulnerability to an Ebola outbreak is whether the people trust their government. Liberia will never be able to control its outbreak until the people begin to cooperate with their government, and that begins with giving people a better education from the time they are young.