Understanding and combating the virus threatening Western Africa and possibly the rest of the world

slide_360751_4042641_freeMuch has been made in recent months over the most recent outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa. In addition to this outbreak there has also been a second, genetically separate breakout in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Certainly the prospects for the spread of this virus going forward are of tantamount concern. Necessarily in the interests of preparedness there are a few things that everyone must know going forward about the disease and the ways in which it spreads.

The disease itself represents a grave threat to the populations within which it has spread. Outbreaks of the past have proven themselves to be highly lethal (sometimes even to the detriment of its spreading before the death of its host). At the same time it appears as if, at least for the moment, western countries are relatively safe with respect to the transmission pathways and spread vectors of the Ebola virus. To that end it is most definitely within the interests of all UN member countries to aid in the fight against further its spread in Africa or elsewhere by any means at hand.

Ebola virus has remained as a relatively rare disease throughout history. In fact the infection rates for Ebola have been consistently low enough to push up its rate of lethality close to 100%. There have been outbreaks in the past, most notably: Zaire (1976, 1995), Uganda (2000) Republic of the Congo (2002-2003), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2007). The most recent, however, is certainly the largest known to date.

Symptoms of the disease include: fever, headache, muscle pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. The virus works to, in a way, kill the insides of anyone it infects. The bodily changes brought about by the disease consist of widespread internal and external bleeding with systematic organ failure.

September 16 WHO report puts the number of dead at 2453 with the number of total cases at 4963.  On that same day, President Barack Obama announced the beginning of increased efforts at fighting the recent Ebola virus outbreak.

Obama is quoted as saying “the reality is that this epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better.” He also indicated that the United States would undoubtedly play a great and continuing role in the management of the outbreak stating that “the world is looking to us.” The UN has estimated that an effective resistance to the disease could require over $1 billion.

The effects of the virus can definitely be seen stretching far beyond Africa economically in the near future.  Indeed if governments around the word wish for continued market stability in the African region and those regions immediately affected by it, they must act soon and in force to counter the Ebola threat.

heres-how-ebola-affects-the-bodyWorld Bank President Jin Yong Kim stated of the outbreak that “The primary cost of this tragic outbreak is in human lives and suffering, which has already been terribly difficult to bear. But our findings make clear that the sooner we get an adequate containment response and decrease the level of fear and uncertainty, the faster we can blunt Ebola’s economic impact.”

The Obama administration has pledged 3,000 US military service personnel to the ongoing Ebola battle. They will allegedly be responsible for the construction of hospitals so as to provide more and more beds to an ever-increasing tide of victims.

Some, however, say that these efforts, while improvements in themselves, do not, on the whole, represent a force necessary to defeat the disease. There are thousands of beds needed and it seems as if current efforts may not be able to outpace the already wide spread of Ebola.

In recent weeks it has been almost impossible to turn on the news somewhere and not hear possible ruminations on the spread of the Ebola virus through “airborne” means. This would, in theory, be quite the threat, however Ebola requires water in order to be active and present in any location as the necessary protein structure of the virus is, in effect, kept in-tact through an aqueous base. Because of this it is obvious that without water, at least at present, the disease would not be able to spread.

So to counter the rampant fear mongering about pandemics in the United States this factor must be taken into account. In its current state Ebola would be fairly difficult to import to the USA. This by no means makes the occurrence impossible, however it may make a hypothetical pandemic easier to manage. The existence of the virus within droplets means that, in effect, it is contained to that type of “habitable” environment.

As long as Ebola remains aqueous in nature, and it appears as if it will over the long term, then the actual spread of the virus is made more difficult. Containment efforts could be largely made through small alterations in the ways in which the average individual goes about the habits of day to day life (handwashing, avoiding closed environments where one could be sneezed/coughed on etc.)

In west Africa not all individuals are entirely trusting of western medicine and some adhere to the traditional ways of healing. These sometimes include the prescription of animal parts or products that could be infected with the virus (including feces). It is also true that many traditional healers have urged individuals who may be infected to avoid treatment as there is a somewhat pervasive fear that the disease is somehow itself brought on by the westerners. Obviously these efforts often make the spread of a droplet-contained disease worse.

Outbreak in northern Uganda, 2000

If the virus somehow made the jump to airborne status then things would immediately change. An airborne pathogen can survive in the air independent of the presence of water and can, therefore, spread over far greater distances and through far more inhospitable environments in a shorter period of time than originally estimated.

The transmission of Ebola virus generally occurs through direct contact with either skin or another object that has come into contact with droplets carrying the disease. Any bodily fluids can carry the pathogens, although there is no strict necessity for a human body.

Wild animals like bats can also carry the disease. Especially in west Africa individuals continue to live off of the land in many ways. Governments in countries like Sierra Leone have even had to enact measures aimed at curbing the harvesting and sale of so-called “bushmeat” as a means to slow the jump of the virus from animal to human.

One thing that health officials are legitimately worried about is the risk of genetic change within the Ebola virus gene pool. Currently the disease kills its host body too quickly, however if this were to change and the virus were to become, say 30-40% lethal, one can easily envision a methodical spread of the disease across international borders far outside of Africa.

Every new case of the disease offers an opportunity for mutation. It is also important to remember that Ebola itself also represents a “sloppy” type virus which tends to mutate very quickly and unpredictably. As it is, however, the virus, at least as we know it, has not mutated in any significant way.

In neocolonial thought, dependency theory generally asserts that poor countries (like those in west Africa) tend assume a geo-political role at the periphery of the global power structure. To that end they also generally become dependent on those who are at the center of the wealth hierarchy. These countries are those which are most recognizable to those in the “first” world: France, Italy, Spain, the United States, Great Britain, the Russian Federation, and, to a different extent, China.

Many of the countries which are currently fighting Ebola do not have the necessary healthcare infrastructure to manage the outbreak efficiently. This can be see as partly a result of the neocolonial system in that West African countries like Liberia where dependency still reigns supreme. Left unchecked the most recent Ebola outbreak could ravage the populations in Africa as it has already demonstrated the capability to do.

Scientists do, indeed, make predictions that the current outbreak could last over a year into the future. The longer that the disease is allowed to spread the more people will die and the higher the risk of international infection becomes.

Those in the industrialized world must seek to understand the plight of west African governments in the containment of Ebola. Certainly efforts at keeping the disease contained may represent a duty of sorts that western governments owe to impoverished African countries. The protection of affected populations must be seen as paramount as much human life depends on it.



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