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Upcoming Teach In: Ebola and Global Health

There will be a Teach-In on Ebola and Global Health, Thursday, September 18th, from 4 – 5:30 pm in Lincoln Hall room 1092.  

UPDATE: The video for the Teach-In is now available!

Sponsored by the Center for African Studies, the Center for Global Studies, the UIUC Global Health Initiative, and the University YMCA, the teach-in will include expert panelists and will focus on Ebola and its impact on global health.

Panelists will include:

  • Dr. Gay Miller – Professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathology
  • Dr. Barry Pittenrigh – Professor in the Department of Entomology and Director of Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO)
  • Christian Martyn Kamara – National General Secretary and Chief Executive Office of the YMCA in Sierra Leone
  • Mabinty Tarawallie, MSW – Sierra Leone National and recent graduate from the University of Illinois School of Social Work

In preparation for this event, this blog post will break down some important information about the Ebola virus.

The worst outbreak of the Ebola virus in history is taking place in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, with a current total of 3,967 suspected and current cases.  The CDC reports the current number of deaths (as of September 5th, 2014) at 2,105.  Ebola is described by Doctors Without Borders as “one of the world’s most deadly diseases,”  and the mortality rate for the current outbreak of 53% makes it all the more terrifying for the communities who find themselves at risk of infection.

The History

The first discovery of the Ebola virus occurred with an outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in Zaire (which is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Sudan in 1976.  These first outbreaks had approximately 300 cases in each country, with 88% of cases leading to death.  The virus is named after the Ebola River, which is close to the first site of infection in Zaire.  There are five different strains of the Ebola virus. These include Bundibugyo, Ivory Coast, Reston, Sudan and Zaire, and are named after their places of origin. All but the Reston Ebola virus are dangerous to humans.  According to the CDC, there have been 31 outbreaks of Ebola, including all five strains, since the original 1976 outbreak.  The average number of reported human cases for each of these outbreaks is 56.

The Virus

Ebola is spread through the direct contact of bodily fluids.  It can be carried and transmitted by animals and humans.  Transmission of the virus is only possible after the infected person begins to show symptoms. It is believed that fruit bats may be a natural host for the virus, and other animals such as primates can also carry the virus and could be the cause of human contraction.

Since the beginning symptoms of Ebola are the same as many other diseases, it is difficult to initially diagnose the disease without a laboratory test.

While several vaccines are being tested for Ebola virus, there are currently no clinically available medications for the disease.  Current treatment for the disease includes administering fluids through IV and treating the symptoms, such as balancing electrolytes and maintaining blood pressure.

The Fear Factor

The fear surrounding the Ebola outbreak is having negative impacts on the health systems in affected countries, making a very bad situation even worse.  One of these impacts is that people are avoiding health care centers because of the concern of contracting Ebola.  This means that individuals suffering from non-Ebola-related health problems are going untreated because they are afraid of contracting the Ebola virus.  This is a huge problem since Ebola is far from the biggest health concern affecting people in West Africa.  This graph from Humanosphere shows that the deaths from neglected tropical diseases and Malaria far outstretch the deaths from Ebola in 2014. But the panic surrounding the Ebola outbreak is overshadowing the urgent health concerns posed by other diseases, causing individuals who need medical care to avoid treatment.

Due to the high levels of publicity that Ebola has garnered in the international media, the irrational alarm surrounding the Ebola outbreak has become a worldwide issue.  According to a recent poll by the Harvard School of Public Health, 39 percent of Americans are concerned that there could be a large Ebola outbreak in the United States.  The mode of transmission for Ebola (only through the direct contact of bodily fluids) makes it extremely unlikely to pose a threat to countries as far away from the affected areas as the United States. In fact, Jay M. Bernhardt, Professor & Founding Director of the Center for Health Communication  at the University of Texas at Austin has stated that the odds of someone living in the U.S. contracting Ebola are “about the same as being struck and killed by a meteor: essentially zero.”

Some experts believe that the international anxiety that has arisen in response to the Ebola outbreak is doing more harm than good for those in the affected regions.  Despite the fact that the World Health Organization has recommended that flights to affected regions remain operational, many international airlines have cancelled flights to these areas.  Not only does the quarantine of borders and cancellation of flights keep health workers and aid from those in need, it has the additional consequence of creating food shortages in the affected countries.

The Current Situation

Although the concern of the virus spreading to the world population may be inflated, the Ebola outbreak is an urgent medical concern for the world community to address. Health workers who are treating the virus are at the most serious risk of infection.  In fact, more than 120 medical workers have contracted the disease, according to WHO. The reason that health workers are at such risk of infection is the lack of protective equipment and adequate facilities to support infection control.  The countries being most heavily affected by the virus (Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) do not have adequate facilities or staff to deal with existing cases and prevent the spread of the disease.

This is why UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has issued an “international rescue call,” requesting a surge in worldwide assistance to deal with the Ebola outbreak.  Part of the international response, in addition to supplies and aid, must include an effort to disseminate information about the disease.  But most importantly, the international response must be grounded in scientific evidence and must strive to combat the fear and stigma that is so widespread surrounding the Ebola outbreak.

Interested in learning more about the Ebola outbreak? Check out the following sources:

Web Resources

CDC – 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa

WHO – Ebola Virus Disease

Doctors without Borders – Ebola Emergency

CDC – Outbreaks Chronology: Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever

Microbe Wiki – Ebola Virus

Infographic from the CDC

Africa Focus – Updates on Ebola

News Articles

WHO: Ebola ‘an international emergency’ – BBC News

Ebola virus: Nine things to know about the killer disease – CNN.com

Ebola Outbreak Precautions – In Pictures

How the Ebola Outbreak Compares to Other Killers – Humanosphere

Ban issues ‘international rescue call’ to halt Ebola epidemic – UN News Centre

Scholarly Articles (Available through UIUC Online Journals & Databases)

Bausch, D. G., & Schwarz, L. (2014, July). Outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in Guinea: Where Ecology Meets Economy. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. pp. 1-5.

Check Hayden, E. (2014). World struggles to stop Ebola. Nature512(7515), 355-356.

Ying, CHENG, Yu, LI and Hong Jie, YU. (2014) Ebola Virus Disease: General Characteristics, Thoughts, and Perspectives. Biomedical and Environmental Sciences. 27(8): 651-3.

Books at UIUC Libraries

Hewlett, Barry S.,Hewlett, Bonnie L. (2008). Ebola, culture, and politics :the anthropology of an emerging disease. Belmont, CA : Thomson Higher Education.

Preston, Richard. (2008). Panic in level 4: cannibals, killer viruses, and other journeys to the edge of scienceNew York : Random House.

Webber, R. (2004). Communicable Disease Epidemiology and Control: A Global Perspective. Wallingford : CABI.

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