WASHINGTON, August 11, 2014 — Over the last few months, Western Africa has braved what many experts have called “the biggest and most complex Ebola outbreak in history.”
The virus has now spread to Lagos, Nigeria, the most populated city in Africa, through air-travel. Despite the severity of this horrid disease and the fact that it could eventually spread to the U.S., many Americans are just learning about Ebola.
It is even more alarming to see some doctors and many in the news media downplaying the gravity of the situation.
During a global health hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa on “Combating the Ebola Threat,” Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said he will be requesting funding for a “pandemic.”
I have introduced legislation known as the neglected tropical disease act which establishes to support a broad range of research activities to achieve cost-effective and sustainable treatment and control and, where possible, the elimination of neglected tropical diseases.
Ebola is not on the top list of 17 neglected tropical diseases, but it does fit the definition of an infection caused by pathogens that is proportionally impact individuals living in extreme poverty, especially in developing countries.
Ebola had been thought to be limited to areas where it could be contained. we know that is no longer true. We need to take seriously the effort to devise more effective means of addressing this and all.
Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever, a deadly viral infection that is easily spread through both direct and indirect contact with all bodily fluids, or in the words of the Centers for Disease Control, “secretions.”
In an effort to downplay the threat of Ebola, some pundits dispute that it is spread easily. The Washington Post’s Lenny Bernstein, for example, recently wrote an article titled “Why you’re not going to get Ebola in the U.S.”
Bernstein argues that we should not fear ebola because the “transmission of Ebola requires direct contact with an infected person’s blood, vomit or feces during the period that he or she is contagious, something that is extremely unlikely for anyone but health-care workers.”
What Bernstein fails to mention is that Ebola is spread through all secretions, including sweat, saliva, urine and mucus, and that a victim can get the disease by contacting an object an infected person has touched.
For example, theoretically someone showing the early onset of flu like symptoms could sneeze into his or her hand while riding public transportation (such as Metro Rail) and then hold on to one of the railings, spreading the virus to that railing.
This would expose anyone else who touches that railing to the virus, which makes it a little easier to contract than Bernstein claims in his article.
Additionally, while most commentators say Ebola is not airborne, at least one study showed the virus to be “somewhat airborne” between pigs and monkeys.
While it is nowhere near the time to panic, we should at least be more concerned than we are with the virus. With today’s global travel, it wouldn’t be too hard for the virus to travel to the U.S., especially now that it has been spread to the mega-city Lagos.
The first person to die in Nigeria was Patrick Sawyer, an American citizen who was caring for his infected sister before he boarded a flight to Lagos. Sawyer was on his way back to the United States; what if he had remained well enough to board his flight home to the U.S.?
A week ago, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden responded to inquiries about a possible spread to the U.S., saying “That is not happening,”.
Frieden has recently changed his mind and now says that the spread of Ebola to the United States is “inevitable.”
The CDC and President Obama have claimed that if the disease does spread to the U.S., we will more than prepared to contain it. However, questions about exactly how prepared we are remain.
We shouldn’t panic — Ebola still remains a distant disease far away in Africa — but we also shouldn’t ignore the legitimate threat of a possible outbreak in the U.S.
As Dr. Louis Pasteur once famously said, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.”