There is good news from West Africa as the number of new Ebola cases seems to be dropping. Despite the scattered cases throughout the United States and other parts of the world, it has not grown to the feared world-wide epidemic. While many are still trying to overcome the disease, the growth of it has slowed.
Officials warn, however, that due to limited health care and record-keeping in the affected areas of West Africa, numbers may not be properly reported. Still, they are hopeful that the slowing trend will continue.
Attention to detail and care should still be maintained, along with all necessary precautions. The problem lies in the interpretation of “necessary.” From state and government officials to the family down the street, prudence needs to be used when concerns about Ebola risk are high.
Little is known about one Connecticut girl who went on a trip to Lagos, Nigeria for a family wedding. After trying to return to school, parents of fellow students protested, resulting in ordered 21-day quarantine for the girl. Her family hired a lawyer who made a very good point about this case. He said, “At some point, making a medical decision has to be based on medical information, not fear.”
What the other families neglected to realize was that the location of the family wedding – Lagos, Nigeria – was several hundred miles away from the epicenter of the outbreak. In addition, there had only been a total of 19 cases in Nigeria, with no new outbreaks for 42 days at the time of their arrival in Nigeria.
This quarantine was nothing more than an overreaction of families who let fear control their actions. After the lawsuit was filed, the school reversed its decision and the seven-year-old girl was allowed to return to school after only three days.
This same fear erupted in a New York bullying case involving two boys who had returned from Senegal. Students pushed the boys, separated themselves, and refused to have anything to do with them. In addition, they taunted the boys by repeatedly calling them “Ebola” and “Africa.”
In another case, a Virginia woman faked symptoms of Ebola in an unsuccessful attempt to stay out of jail. She was stopped for a traffic infraction resulting in arrest for possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia. Officials cautiously escorted her to a hospital, but later found out that she had never been to West Africa, and she had never even left the United States. Now she faces charges for obstruction of justice.
In New Jersey, Kaci Hickox, a nurse who had recently returned from the affected areas in West Africa, fought a 21-day quarantine. Hickox was accused by the public of not being logical or caring about the people around her. She hired a lawyer, feeling that her rights were being violated and that she was healthy, posing no risk to friends and neighbors. Lawyers and officials battled back and forth, ultimately lifting the mandatory quarantine. However, Hickox decided, out of respect for her neighbors to stay out of public places until the 21 days passed.
More situations like these exist throughout the country. Lessons can still be learned from the World Health Organization directives. Ebola does not transmit as easily as the flu or other respiratory illnesses many people face regularly every year. It is strictly transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids such as vomit, blood, and feces. Furthermore, if someone has had such direct contact, as a nurse or doctor might, they are not automatically infected or contagious.
Typically, even if they do contract Ebola, they are not contagious and cannot spread the disease until they first develop a fever. This, if it is from Ebola, would then lead to uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea. When caught in its early stages and with proper treatment, Ebola can be beaten – proven with the successful treatment of several Ebola patients here in the United States. Only one patient died from Ebola in the United States. He was first diagnosed incorrectly, sent home, and when he went back to the hospital, he was far into the stages of the illness.
Many people wonder why Ebola has been more successfully treated in other countries around the world. Health officials believe that the lack of control in West Africa is likely due to differences in available treatments. Experts have reported that it takes about five gallons of liquid each day for an Ebola patient to stay alive. In the United States, this is achieved by inserting a subclavian line – a tube that is inserted into a large vein that leads to the heart. In West Africa, healthcare workers are forced to use smaller intravenous lines, or give patients fluids orally.
Other factors that influence the ability to survive this aggressive disease include malnourishment, availability of early supportive health care, and the age of the patient. Younger patients generally recover more easily than older patients. It is also known that the higher the viral load you get infected with, the more severe the disease will be.
Experimental tactics were used when treating patients in the United States with both the ZMapp drug and the blood transfusion from Ebola survivors. Neither of these treatments have been proven through clinical trials. The World Health Organization had to approve the use of these experimental treatments for select patients, and the treatments will have to go through clinical trials before they can be widely used on the general public, should that ever be needed.
It is necessary to re-state the importance of vigilant treatment of patients that are still sick, as well as the need for nurses and physicians to help in West Africa. Despite the slowing of progression, the international community should not scale back its response. According to the World Health Organization, one simple mistake can still ignite a whole new transmission chain. If anyone has been to the affected areas in West Africa and then develops a fever, they should seek prompt medical attention.
The general public needs to be knowledgeable about the facts of Ebola transmission and should not overreact out of fear or ignorance. In addition, know your geography. Africa is a very large country, and coming from there does not always translate to coming from the affected areas in West Africa. Furthermore, trust your friends, neighbors, and companions to do the right thing if they have been exposed. Advice and help them as you can, but do not ignore their existence. Be logical. Be compassionate.