The Ebola Virus has claimed over 3,000 lives this year in the West African states of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. With five known strains and a 55 percent mortality rate, Ebola is a threat to many inhabiting the exposed areas or in contact with those already sick.
The Ebola virus’s natural host is considered to be fruit bats of the pteropodidae family. The virus, once transmitted to a human, can be spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of those infected, or indirectly through contact with a contaminated environment. The recent Ebola outbreak can be attributed to three of the five Ebola strains: Bundibugyo Ebolavirus, Zaire Ebolavirus and Sudan Ebolavirus.
Despite the sudden influx of media coverage, Ebola can be dated back as far as 1976. Researchers Christopher Duncan and Susan Scott of the University of Liverpool even claim that the “Black Death” that tore through medieval Europe was not the Bubonic plague but an Ebola-like virus, based on the pace of the disease.
“Media coverage is just now starting because it hit American doctors,” Dr. Vivian Sanchez of VITAS Innovative Hospice Care of Palm Beach said about the current crisis. “It’s coming home so it’s now something that people are worried about. When it comes close it becomes very personal.”
It was first known to the international community as the Ebola hemorrhagic fever, occurring for the first time simultaneously in Nzara, Sudan and Yambukk, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yambukk, sitting near the river Ebola, is where the virus received its name. After this, public attention ceased save coverage of a small outbreak in Sudan in 1979.
In 1989 Ebola was discovered in a group of imported primates traced to a single Philippine exporter, and then between 1994 and 1996 more than five independent sites of Ebola transmission were discovered near tropical forests in Africa. Currently, the crisis is relatively contained within West Africa, with a few outlying cases.
First-year Harold Gonzalez gave his opinion as a pre-med AOC on the current situation. “I feel like the main threats of the Ebola virus would be the lack of resources in many of the countries when there have been outbreaks. They don’t have the resources for mass containment and are limited by the lack of support from other countries,” Gonzalez commented.
The African Union is urging its member states to lift travel bans, claiming they may hurt the region’s economy. This could mean, among other things, a slower containment of the disease. The danger in this option is that the more time a virus is given to circulate, the more it will change and adapt. An adaptation could mean a more contagious strain, one that is quicker to develop, or even one that is airborne, a disastrous possibility. An international research team in Sierra Leone lead by Stephen Gire, found at least 50 changes in the virus genomes since the start of the 2014 outbreak, suggesting the virus is already mutating.
“In my opinion, mutations could present a threat not just to African countries but other continents if the situation is not contained,” Gonzalez commented.
Dr. Sanchez believes that, on the topic of mutations, the West African people are less threatened than the people of the United States.
“I think people there have developed some immunities to it, because it has been there such a long time,” Dr. Sanchez said. “Africa will suffer more than the United States, but people there have more immunities than they even know about.” She is not particularly concerned with the possibility of mutations within Ebola’s current outbreak areas, but notes that the people of the United States would no doubt be more susceptible if the disease were to reach American borders. “Americans travel a lot, we’re everywhere,” Sanchez commented. “We are a very mobile society and I think that in of itself is a big risk and reason for concern for us.”
If the infection of a few American doctors can enact such concern, Ebola within the United States would no doubt spur widespread panic. The treatment currently being developed, ZMapp by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., is an experimental treatment not yet tested in humans.
Dr. Sanchez commented that it “seems to be very promising, I think that we’ll get there.” She has faith in the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and other institutions working towards possible treatment of Ebola.
The CDC commented in an interview with CNN, “The product is still in an experimental stage and the manufacturer reports that there is a very limited supply, so it cannot be purchased and is not available for general use.”
All the doses of ZMapp manufactured have been distributed, but it is too early to know if the drug is effective. Many people have noted improvements after being treated, but more trials in controlled environments will be necessary to come to a sound conclusion. The question is if there will be solution available in time for full containment, as those already infected will likely not benefit from ZMapp and other trial solutions.
The history of the virus Ebola is lengthy, but a solution – or at the very least containment – is a possibility for the future.
Information for this article was taken from bbc.com, ibtimes.com, abcnews.go.com, id.oxfordjournals.org, and cdc.gov.