Ebola is in Australia! Turn out the lights and call the cops!
And yet in June of 2014 in Liberia, Africa, “I don’t believe in Ebola” was not only a common view, even among many medical professionals; it was the number one hit songi.
Little did the news team know, what Vice investigator Larsen was reporting on, in those mere months prior to the formal “mega outbreak”, was a far cry from what was to follow.
Vice investigator, Gold, would find, for his dispatches, a picture that was exceedingly more grim when he returned to Liberia in October of 2014ii.
The bodies were piled high and the emergency services overwhelmed. The situation so chaotic, that one medical team took a body for cremation; only to discover on arrival that the patient was still aliveiii.
But how did it come to this? Thousands of US boots on the groundiv; quarantine zonesv; confirmed US cases, one now dead, being sent home when returning from disease stricken Africa vi; according to the World Health Organization (WHO) an “unavoidable” continued spread in Europe being underway vii; and even four suspected cases in Australia: Perth, Melbourne, Gold Coast and, most recently, Cairns viii. Is this new disease the beginning of the end for us all?
Well, probably not.
First of all, the haemorrhagic viruses of the Ebola family are quite well understood ix. This is something that has been persistently reinforced, since the outbreak became internationally unwieldy, by lectures at UC Berkeley x; Stoneybrook in New Yorkxi; and grand rounds at Texas Statexii, where the US Ebola fatality occurred, to name but a few. Even the medical arms of the military, including the notorious Fort Detrick xiii, and Africa Command (AfriCom) xiv, along with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)xv, have gone out of their way to make this information available.
Ebola is a delicate virus that only requires standard available hospital contact precautionsxvi xvii. This is not to say the deaths are not real; however, the outbreak can be controlled – no different to any other infectious disease faced in any hospital around the world every day. According to a letter in Lancet this month: This remains the case, despite the over the top precautions all too often shown in news reports xviii. Indeed, the greatest risk of infection appears to be in the incorrect removal of personal protective equipment (PPE) by medical staffxix.
The real problem is the lack of facilities in African nations becoming over burdened, and poor contact precaution procedure enforcement in developed world hospital settingsxx xxi. Which is something we always live with xxii xxiii xxiv xxv.
The African cases have been genetically and spatially mapped, according to Science xxvi xxvii, and through this, as well as CDC contact tracing xxviii, a geo-spacial time line of the 2014 outbreak has already been formed all the way to a likely “patient zero” in a 2 year old boy xxix. Additionally, the virus has been around, in one form or another, since at least 1976 xxx. Arguably, even in backwater Australia, we know quite a lot, is the point xxxi xxxii.
So why all the hype? Why is special training required to take a medical history xxxiii 29? Why are actors dressing up as Ebola patients in New York xxxiv? Why are medical staff refusing to be quarantined, if it is so dangerousxxxv? Why is the military doing something altogether differentxxxvi? In short: Why is Ebola death on every channel?
One reason is the actual death.
WHO figures have the current African death toll approaching a “likely highly under reported” ~5’000 dead xxxvii. That alarming figure, however, does not adequately communicate the risk – or lack thereof. That being said, it seems all but certain the novel tobacco derived antiviral “ZMapp” will still make a killing; whether or not it is needed or even works xxxviii. And don’t worry, along with companies in Russia promising several vaccines xxxix, the “reputable” giant Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK) is on the case – this being perhaps more concerning news than anything Ebola could hope to threaten alone xl xli xlii xliii xliv xlv.
Another glaring question is: How did Africa go from, not even believing in Ebola in June, to ~5’000+ dead in September 1 11 xlvi?!
Ebola in its current form is thought to come from eating African wild game meat4. However, the reason so many in Liberia were in disbelief for so long, was due to the fact that, if cooked at ~60 degrees Celsius; Ebola is destroyed xlvii. As such, with cooking, no one was sicker than usual – and everyone was eating the meat 1.
Add to that the (arguably deserved 1 2) distrusted reputation of the US and Liberian governments, and the large number of other fatal diseases still in Africa: Why would they worry about another disease? One being told to them no less; that required they give up one of their, very limited, food sources; and that they saw no evidence for? Under the circumstances, it could be argued, a belief in Ebola, especially in those early days, would not have been the most prudent position to maintain for the average African.
And cooking is not one’s only Ebola defense. It is worthy of note; Ebola virus is also destroyed by bleach, time, sunlight, boiling water for 5 minutes – indeed, by pretty much anything 44. And all of the key items are found in the hospitals of developed countries. And most households. And, quite honestly, in most public restrooms.
It is further worthy of note that all Ebola case scares in Australia, thus far, have not in fact resulted in a sweeping outbreak of the disease in this country. In fact; they have amounted to nothing at all – and even that is arguably too much. This is the trouble with “news” media hype.
Although it is true the vectors are technically unknown, and the disease is technically untreatable, but for supportive care 17 4 : to worry about Ebola is no different to worrying about every other horrible, and more contagious, disease that you have, as yet, never even heard of.
The best thing you can do to protect yourself, and your family, right now – is turn off your TV.
*JJR is the psychiatry & research science investigator for the Chronicle LS.
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iii“Ebola Burial Team Take Body Away for Cremation, Realise Man Is Actually Still Alive – Africa – World – The Independent.” Accessed October 30, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/ebola-burial-team-take-body-away-for-cremation-realise-man-is-actually-still-alive—9773565.html.
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