The Ebola Outbreak: What You Need to Know

This year’s Ebola outbreak is the most serious disease outbreak in modern history that has grown to affect most of Western Africa and is spreading bit by bit to other parts of the world. Ebola is a serious disease that has generated a lot of fear worldwide about the possibility of a widespread outbreak. While fear is a natural response to this type of instance, it’s important to understand what Ebola is and how likely it is to actually spread.

What is Ebola?

Ebola is a viral disease caused by infection with one of four Ebola virus strains. The disease was discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now considered the Democratic Republic of Congo. Scientists believe that the disease is held by bats indigenous to Africa and was possibly spread by food infected by a sick bat. According to Doctors Without Borders, this current outbreak began in Guéckédou, Guinea, where bat hunting is common.

Where is Ebola having the greatest impact?

West African countries such as Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone have been hit the hardest by Ebola, and these countries have not been able to contain it on their own. The United States of America has only had 7 recorded cases thus far, and only one of those resulted in death. A little over 4,000 people in total have died from Ebola during this outbreak.

ebola_transmission_worldwide
Map via New York Times

 

10.08.14 - USG West Africa Ebola Outbreak Map #2 FY 15
Map via USAID & CDC

 

Liberia has been affected the most, with close to 4,000 cases in the country alone and a staggering number of deaths. Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea all have a shortage of medical care staff, leading to health care facilities being unable to care for the number of sick people coming for help. Some regions have had to resort to sending some patients back home to be cared for by their families, resulting in more disease transmissions.

How can I catch Ebola?

Dr. Thomas R. Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has emphasized that chances of catching Ebola in the United States are extremely low. Direct contact with a sick Ebola patient’s blood, urine, sweat, and feces will result in transmission. Direct contact means that the fluid has gotten into a person’s eyes, mouth, or nose, or it has entered the bloodstream through cuts or cracks in the skin. Since Ebola is a fever disorder and doesn’t have effects on the respiratory system, coughing and sneezing aren’t symptoms of Ebola; but, an infected Ebola patient coughing directly in someone’s face can result in transmission.

How can I help?

By being educated on the real effects and dangers of Ebola, you can best help those in need. Fear creates a stigma and irrational actions, which can make this disease harder to treat and ultimately easier to transmit. Since those of us outside of Western Africa aren’t in direct danger of Ebola, we can help by donating to non-government organizations that are aiding in the effort to contain Ebola (click through to the link to find an organization to help).

Remember, if you haven’t had contact with anyone coming from West Africa or anyone who’s sick with Ebola, then you are very unlikely to contract the disease. Fear is any disease’s number one ally in spreading transmissions, so please remember to stay educated and stay calm.

For more information on Ebola, please visit the CDC online.

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