Ebola can be prevented with proper resources
Ebola, which is currently affecting the people of Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and parts of Nigeria, has seen outbreaks in the past that were never successfully eradicated.
This epidemic could be halted with proper resources, said Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tom Frieden in a press conference. At the moment, there are not enough people or facilities available to adequately quarantine and treat patients.
“There is a window of opportunity to tamp this down, but that window is closing,” he said.
The overall number of people infected with the Ebola virus is increasing at an accelerated pace, he said. More people are expected to display symptoms over the next few weeks.
Symptoms of Ebola include fever, headaches, muscle aches, internal bleeding and diarrhea, said Melvin Weinstein, chief of the Division of Allergy, Immunology and Infectious Disease at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Other diseases also cause those symptoms, meaning a blood test is required to confirm whether the patient has Ebola or another disease, like malaria.
As of August 31, roughly 3,707 people have been infected with the Ebola virus, with 1,848 fatalities, according to the CDC website.
More victims may exist, Frieden said. It is likely that a number of infected people live in areas with few or no doctors, while other patients refuse to see doctors out of fear.
“When people were going in with sprays of bleach to sterilize after people had died, [a] rumor went around that that [spray] was spreading Ebola,” he said. “There are a lot of misconceptions that need to be dealt with.”
Although little to no risk exists of seeing this epidemic in the United States, Weinstein said American health workers in the affected region are at risk by working with infected people and fluid samples.
Another issue impeding health worker efforts to contain the disease is the speed with which it is spreading, he said. The rate of infections is much higher than what the CDC expected. This has complicated attempts to contain the outbreak.
Outbreaks can be halted by following specific protocols, Frieden said.
“We know what to do: Find patients quickly. Isolate them effectively and promptly. Treat them,” he said. “The challenge is not those efforts, it’s doing them consistently at the scale that we need.”
The virus can incubate for three weeks, Weinstein said. Anyone who was in a region with the disease in the previous 21 days could be infected.
The disease is being spread through contact with the blood and other bodily fluids of patients, he said.
Actual health workers are insufficiently supplied with protective equipment, preventing them from taking the proper precautions when treating patients, he said.
Ebola is not an airborne disease, he said. There is no risk of infection between two people who are merely in the same room.
According to the World Health Organization website, the largest outbreak of Ebola before this was in 2000 to 2001, with 425 cases recorded in Uganda. The largest number of fatalities was in 1976, when the virus was discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 280 people died at that time.
Stopping the virus is easy in theory, Weinstein said. Three things are needed: resources, health care and management experts and global cooperation to reduce the spread of the disease.
Administrators, nurses, doctors and other personnel are needed to help manage the crisis, he said. While volunteers from the global community are welcome, the vast majority of the people helping are from local areas.
Multiple countries have contributed laboratories and other resources to the affected nations.
To properly stop the epidemic, these volunteers and countries need to consistently work on a large scale, he said. Previous outbreaks were successfully contained, and once those efforts are replicated at a larger level, this one can be as well.
Current medical practices are capable of helping people afflicted, Weinstein said. Ensuring proper fluid balance in patients raises the odds of survival.
“We’re seeing an increasing number of people surviving Ebola,” he said.