What is Ebola?
In late March, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its first report of a series of Ebola cases in various districts of the West African country of Guinea. Since then, the virus has been deemed a global emergency, spreading across three continents, including the United States. The Ebola virus disease is a hemorrhagic fever that is severe and often fatal if treated improperly. The WHO has speculated that this year’s outbreak of Ebola, the largest in history, was transmitted from wild animals to humans, spreading through human-to-human contact.
A person may contract the disease by coming into direct contact with the virus through cuts, broken skin or the blood or bodily fluids of a person who is infected. Exposure to the disease can also occur via contaminated surfaces and objects, such as door handles or clothing.
Ebola has affected West African countries since the outbreak. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the epicenter of the outbreak, are considered to be the most devastated by the virus, with a case fatality range of 50 to 70 percent, depending on the variant of the disease. On Oct. 15, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an updated death toll of 4,493 people, with the number of total reported cases reaching nearly 9,000.
There are no known cures or licensed vaccines to combat the virus, but there are two experimental vaccines undergoing testing. If the vaccines prove effective against the virus, they will first be administered to health care workers. The only available method in responding to the virus has been quarantine and early treatment, which has had successful results in halting an outbreak in countries with only few reported cases, like Nigeria and Senegal.
Although Ebola is an extremely infectious illness, it is not extremely contagious.
“Our anxiety stems from case fatality, but it is a low contagion disease,” said economics professor Ann Carlos during a forum held by members of the CU Boulder social science faculty on Oct. 14.
Patients become contagious as early as the day before they begin to show symptoms, which can take 2-21 days to manifest after exposure.
“The potential deaths associated with Ebola are seriously large numbers,” Carlos said. “But it is not a major killer like tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS.”
Because Ebola cannot be transmitted through the air, preventing the spread of the disease using proper procedures is possible.
Ebola in the U.S.
On Oct. 1, the first case of Ebola was diagnosed in Dallas, Texas. Thomas Eric Duncan, 42, contracted the virus while on a recent trip to Liberia before returning to the U.S. Although Duncan was administered an experimental drug, he died four days later on Oct. 8.
Two days after Duncan’s death, one of the health care workers who had assisted in his care at the Texas Presbyterian Hospital was diagnosed with the virus. Four days later, on Oct. 14, a second health care worker at the same hospital tested positive for Ebola. Anyone who had been in contact with the three diagnosed patients are being closely monitored for symptoms.
In response to the outbreak, the CDC, WHO and other international organizations have implemented increased preventative measures. Five major U.S. airports servicing New York City, Newark, Atlanta, Chicago and Washington D.C. have begun enhanced entry screening for travelers coming from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
In an attempt to forego rumored travel bans on West African countries, President Obama appointed an “Ebola Czar” to monitor the deadly virus. On Oct. 17, the president named former Vice President Chief of Staff Ron Klain as the administration’s primary Ebola response coordinator. Crisis-response operative Klain is in charge of containing the deadly virus and helping relieve the anxiety that has swept across the U.S.
Although the U.S. hasn’t issued a travel ban on countries severely affected by Ebola, some student study abroad programs have changed. In an updated statement released on Oct. 15 by the popular program Semester at Sea, the program has been rerouted to avoid Senegal and Ghana in case an outbreak does occur in those countries. In lieu of those destinations, the ship will now be docking in Barcelona, Spain and Civitavecchia, Italy for Fall 2014. The Spring 2015 voyage will now include Walvis Bay, Namibia and Casablanca, Morocco.
The CU study abroad program manager for Africa, Cloud Baffour, confirms that all African programs offered by CU, none of which are in the epicenter of the outbreak, will remain unaffected as of today.
“Since the WHO has declared Ebola contained in Senegal after the clearing of one reported case, the program will continue to be available to CU students,” Baffour said.
“I think a lot of people are confused about how Ebola spreads,” said Luke Haggerty, a senior studying ecology and evolutionary biology. “A lot is being done to monitor and contain the small outbreak in Dallas, so I don’t foresee Ebola becoming an epidemic in the US.”
Megan Shannon, an assistant professor in political science at CU, said the lack of a coordinated response among international organizations and governments, contestation between organizations and poor funding is creating a barrier to effectively address the issue.
“Ebola is something that necessitates an international coordinated response,” Shannon said. “If the international community wants to more effectively respond to the crisis, it will probably have to put more money and resources into international or non-governmental institutions because the UN estimates it’s going to take anywhere between $600 million to $1 billion to fight Ebola.”
For more information about travel notices and advice for students thinking of traveling to West Africa, visit the CDC travel page.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Bethlehem Feleke at email@example.com.