WASHINGTON, August 6, 2014 — As headlines increasingly report on the current Ebola outbreak in Western Africa, the worst outbreak in recorded history, misinformation about the disease is growing. So far, more than 1,711 people in West Africa have been diagnosed with the disease and 932 have died, according to the CDC.
Following are five facts about the Ebola virus:
1. Ebola is real. The most recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has sparked what is being called an “Ebola-skeptic” movement of people who question whether Ebola actually exists. On the streets of Sierra Leon, Guinea, Nigeria, Liberia there is growing skepticism about Ebola. They instead claim that the government is involved in a conspiracy to spread fear in the country. This is encouraging some residents to hide those who become ill and not to take proper precautions in handling those infected or who die from the disease.
2. Ebola is spread through personal contact, not through the air. Ebola is an infectious disease which is caused by a virus that is transmitted by physical contact between people. It is not an air-born disease. The virus is spread from wild animals to the human population, and is transmitted only through close contact with the fluid of an infected person or animal. It can be spread through blood, urine, diarrhea or vomit, and can be spread after the death of an infected person in burial rituals. The disease is part of a group of diseases caused hemorrhagic fevers and occurs primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa. The incubation period for the virus – the time between when it is contracted and when symptoms occur – is between three and 21 days. The symptoms of Ebola are sudden fever, extreme weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat, followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, failing kidney and liver function, and sometimes internal and external bleeding.
3. Ebola is usually deadly, but people can survive it. There is currently no vaccine to prevent Ebola, and there are only experimental drugs to treat the disease. Depending on the severity of the strain of the outbreak, between 50 percent and 90 percent of those who contract the illness die. The only treatment for the illness is to replace fluids that victims lose through IVs and keep the patient comfortable.
4. The experimental treatment provided to American aid workers is not yet available in Africa. African countries are lobbying the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to receive the experimental drug ZMapp given to American aid workers Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, but so far, it is not available. The drug, which has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only been tested on animals, not humans, and has not been proven safe. There are very limited amounts of the drug available, but the primary reason health care workers are avoiding sending it to Africa is ethnical. Some experts say with approximately 50% of those infected in the current outbreak surviving, the experimental drug could kill some who otherwise would live. They also note that the drug is completely experimental. The World Health Organization spokesman said the WHO, “would not recommend any drug that has not gone through the normal process of licensing and clinical trials.” The situation is further complicated by previous cases of pharmaceutical companies testing harmful drugs on inhabitants of the Third World without their full consent, leading to disastrous consequences. One reason pharmaceutical companies have failed to produce medications for Ebola is financial; with such a small number of individuals suffering from the disease, and with most victims in Third World countries, there simply is not enough money in researching a treatment, preventative measure or cure.
5. Travelers should avoid going to infected areas unless absolutely necessary. Both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control have advised against any non-essential travel to infected areas, including Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Bordering countries may also be effected, so it is inadvisable to travel to those locations during the outbreak. The risk for travelers is relatively low unless they come into contact with the fluids of infected persons, but as the CDC notes, “There is little reason to risk infection by traveling to the hardest hit areas.”