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Five reasons you don't need to worry about Ebola

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 22nd, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

With twin outbreaks of Ebola now reported in Uganda and Congo, the fatal hemorrhagic fever has returned to world headlines. Ebola is a terrible disease, violently killing anyone it infects; very few victims survive. However, despite the headlines, there's little reason to be alarmed. Here's five reasons why you don't need to lose sleep over Ebola just yet.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - 5. Ebola outbreaks are rare. Since its discovery in 1976, there have been approximately 29 recorded outbreaks of Ebola, which is averaging about one per year. Some years see no outbreaks and other years may see two or three, which appears to be happening now. This means Ebola is a sporadic disease that occasionally infects people, but spends most of its time infecting unknown host organisms, hidden deep in the rainforests of equatorial Africa. And while a disease can go pandemic on its first outbreak, it is always because there is a recurring cycle of human-to-human transmission, but this isn't happening with Ebola. 

4. Ebola is confined to one area of the globe. As just mentioned, Ebola is only found in specific regions of equatorial Africa, and normally those regions are quite remote. The disease has never emerged in a city on its own. Although researchers do not know what organisms carry Ebola in the wild (the sylvatic reservoir of the disease), they appear to be confined. 

Despite this, there have been specific cases outside of equatorial Africa, but these have been the result of lab accidents and never the result of natural outbreaks. These accidents have been universally contained.

The tropics appear to host other viruses, related to Ebola (filoviruses), particularly in Asia, but none of these other viruses are Ebola, but rather cousins of the disease. None have Ebola's deadliness.
 
3. The world is watching. Ebola is a frightful disease for which there is no cure. The nightmare scenario of Ebola breaking into the general population has become the staple of science fiction horror stories and television movies. However, the hype surrounding the disease is part of the reason why the world pays such close attention to it. The World Health Organization, among others, is constantly monitoring the area for reports of anything suspicious. Local medical professionals, trained in what to look for, know how to respond at the first sign of a case. And local people also know the signs. When they see it, they act, and they report it. The result is a swift quarantine of the area that prevents the disease from spreading. 

2. Ebola is very difficult to catch. To catch Ebola, you almost have to do so deliberately. Ebola is only known to spread through direct contact with an infected person. It is not transmitted through the air like the flu. You cannot catch it as you do a cold. 

Most people catch Ebola before an outbreak is known, typically from eating the undercooked flesh of infected animals or from trying to treat the newly sick. Some victims have been infected by dirty needles used for medical procedures without proper sterilization, although present day precautions now prevent this. 

However, once an outbreak is known, everybody knows to avoid contact with infected people. Treatment of the sick is then left to highly-trained specialists. Generally, this stops the cycle of transmission and prevents further spread of the disease. 

It is true that researchers wear specialized suits when working with Ebola, however this is because of its relative lethality (virulence) as opposed to the likelihood of infection. 

1. Ebola is swift and deadly. At first, one might not perceive the speed and lethality of Ebola as a virtue, but this is probably the number one reason why the disease remains confined to a narrow band in Africa. Ebola is a fast-acting virus, usually striking down its victim within a day or two of infection. Within a week, most cases prove deadly. Few people, usually a third or less, survive. By rapidly debilitating victims, the disease prevents easy transmission. A person who is sick in bed will not likely spread the disease among the community, but remain confined at home or in a hospital. Indeed, it is workers caring for the sick who are most at risk of infection. 

The symptoms of the disease are particularly horrific, with hemorrhaging occurring throughout the body. Blood commonly pours from all of a victim's openings, making the disease unmistakable and gruesome. This terrible sight deters many from making contact with victims. 

Finally, a quick death means victims have only a short time to infect those around them. 

Ebola is still a very serious disease and it's an extraordinary and newsworthy tragedy when it strikes. It has destroyed entire families and even whole villages in some cases. Yet, hysteria over the disease is more the product of Hollywood science fiction rather than reality. For those of us who do not live, and are unlikely to travel to the deep wilds of equatorial Africa, Ebola is unlikely to be anything more than a tragic headline for us to read. And that's a blessing, albeit a dubious one. 

 

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