Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Worst Ebola Virus Outbreak in Humans Yet.

I quote from an article in the Washington Post:
The worst Ebola outbreak in history has put a number of countries in West Africa in lockdown, led to the deaths of nearly 700 people since February......Ebola viral disease is a highly infectious illness with fatality rates up to 90 percent, according to the U.N. World Health Organization. Symptoms initially include a sudden fever as well as joint and muscle aches and then typically progress to vomiting, diarrhea and, in some cases, internal and external bleeding........There is no known vaccine or cure for the disease, but if caught early, it can be battled like other viruses such as influenza.........Ebola is alarmingly contagious; there have been incidents in which the disease has spread at funerals for victims. Public health officials deem an outbreak to be over only after 42 days have elapsed without any new confirmed cases.
Currently the virus spreads through contact with bodily fluids of someone who is infected. However, there are six known varieties of the virus, suggesting that it may mutate or that other varieties may exist but not have been studied. The virus apparently has reservoirs in primate populations in Africa. When a virus spreads from another animal to man, its properties may change. I worry especially were we to encounter a variety of Ebola that was as lethal as the current one, but that spread through the air as the flu virus does.

The lesson here is that we need a good global system for detecting epidemics of contagious diseases, including emerging diseases. (How many millions of cases and deaths might have been avoided if HIV/AIDS had been detected and its spread limited early after its emergence in human populations?) This is an activity that the World Health Organization must coordinate, and one that the United States and other rich countries should help finance.

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