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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Can We Contain Ebola?

Without any doubt, the scary part of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is how lethal it is. Yahoo news indicated that WHO was reporting a newly revised case fatality rate of 70%, although today's update from WHO puts the number at 50% (4493 deaths so far out of "8997 confirmed, probable, and suspected cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD) seven affected countries (Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, and the United States of America) up to the end of 12 October." This puts the disease on the same lethal footing as the bubonic plague and even more deadly than the "Spanish" flu that was a global pandemic in 1918.

Ebola is controllable, but only with concerted efforts (as have, in fact, occurred in Nigeria, where an outbreak was halted in its tracks). Thanks to Dr. Peter Pollock, I have been alerted to a group at Northeastern University in Boston who are trying to track the progress of the disease, so that we can all be kept alert to the danger. Indeed, recognizing the danger and protecting yourself as much as you can is an important part of controlling the virus's spread. Temporarily quarantining people who have potentially been exposed is a wise policy, as well, no matter how oppressive that may seem. Indeed, you might recall that Ellis Island is an island precisely so that passengers into the US could be quarantined if they were sick.

At ground zero, in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, it is hard to imagine the societal devastation that the disease will cause down the road, given the relatively weak world response thus far to stopping the spread there. These are countries with already high death rates and high birth rates, and a preponderance of young people. They are already short on health resources and economic well-being, and Ebola will set these countries back in the way that HIV has set back eastern and southern Sub-Saharan Africa.


  1. John ... excellent comments!

    I suppose that in the middle of all the fear. we should take time to be human. I have done a lot of humanitarian work in Africa, including rural villages, hospitals and ghettos. I KNOW what the lives of those people is really like. I am sure your own views must be similar ... you have been to West Africa. When I see health workers in Africa taking ebola victims to a local clinic in a wheelbarrow ... it tears my heart out. Those people have NO CHANCE. They are simply being transported to they can lie on a makeshift bed and die. The outbreak will tear through their society, and they cannot stop it at a social level. How can a mother in Africa walk away from her husband or children ... if they get the fever? She cannot.

    For so many families in West Africa, and probably many other parts of Africa, this is a nightmare beyond comprehension.

    Pete Pollock, Redondo Beach, USA

  2. My second set of thoughts are these ...

    1. The only possible response from the West at this stage ... is ISOLATE AND CONTAIN. It is far too late to stop Ebola at its source. The disease will run its course, possibly to many places inside Africa (on a large scale). But the West needs a coordinated strategy to draw the line at the continent of Africa. That means effectively containing all exit points and transit points from that continent. It is the only strategy left that might work. It does not require that we stop all people (which is surely impossible), but we must stop all infected people.

    2. If the world fails to contain this Ebola, then I think the real threat is that it will get into a large slum in some other country. Maybe Karachi, or Calcutta, Or Rio, or Manila. But if Ebola gets into those shanty towns, it will take down countless lives.

    3. I have seen no Comments from scientists about this ebola strain. You are right - the lethality appears to be lower (50%, instead of the normal 90%). Yet ironically, the lower lethality seems to be the reason for the "success" in the spread of the disease. Normally, Ebola is a hemorraghic fever that produces horrendous symptoms: vommiting, diarrhea, bloody puke. These symptoms have contributed to the inability of the disease to be spread widely - simply because they were so horrendous. It was clear to Africans that something was terribly wrong with an infected person. The current Ebola strain has less of the overt horrible symptoms, and therefore infected people can travel further (and longer) before they succumb to it. So the "mathematics of Ebola" are that the strain of the virus with the highest lethality - was never the principal threat. The real danger was the strain of the virus that could transmit for the longest time possible, and still maintain a high lethality. That seems to be what we are dealing with here.

    Pete Pollock, Redondo Beach, CA