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The Positives of the Ebola Craze and Your 5 Minute Guide to the Virus

Google “ebola news” and in .18 seconds 355,000,000 results appear. Ebola’s nationwide celebrity is an interesting case being that it still has yet to reach pandemic status.

Many satirical news outlets and online shows mocked how Americans handled the issue. Among this list, The Onion has published articles such as “CDC Attempts To Put Ebola Outbreak In Perspective By Releasing List Of Worse Ways To Die” and Russell Howard of Russell Howard’s Good News broadcast on YouTube scoffed at the juxtaposition of America’s sensationalized coverage on the disease with the UK’s more tame broadcasts.

However, there are implications to Ebola’s spread which did and still merit headlines.

From a fiscal standpoint, the Ebola virus has affected the economies of the most affected West African countries. According to the Economist, the World Bank assesses Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone’s collective loss of GDP as equivalent to $359 million US dollars to-date.  If the contagion continues to progress as rapidly, Liberia is predicted a 12% loss of GDP in 2015.

The World Bank also published an analysis of the financial repercussions in September which cited hefty short-range financial losses: $93 million for Liberia (4.7 percent of GDP); $79 million for Sierra Leone (1.8 percent of GDP); and $120 million for Guinea (1.8 percent of GDP).

Interestingly, the report also shows the majority of the economic impacts result from behavior due to paranoia from the disease instead of direct costs such as that from deaths and caregiving. The fear of contracting the disease has led businesses to close down and employees to skip work.

The media frenzy has also brought up discussion on the treatment of healthcare professionals who’ve worked abroad in infected areas.

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Photo credit: NIAID / Foter / CC BY

An example is that of Nurse Kaci Hickox, now an advocate for rights of international healthcare workers.Hickox first encountered limitations on her in-state liberties when coming home from aiding Ebola patients in Sierra Leone under Doctors Without Borders. Despite being symptom-free, Hickox found herself on lockdown in a “medical tent” outside of a hospital in New Jersey immediately upon her return to the US. After four days, Hickox was allowed to go to her residence in Maine only to be put on house arrest by Maine governor Paul LePage despite again testing negative for Ebola. This time Hickox openly defied orders by taking an hour-long bike ride. This brought the situation to court where the judge ruled the restrictions too harsh and gave Hickox a less severe order of self-monitoring. Hickox has justified her actions: “these policies are being made by politicians, really not the experts in the field” she told CNN. She believes in science, not hype.  Kaci’s stance is backed by Dean of Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, Patricia M. Davidson, who contends the existing quarantine procedures only added to the hysteria of the disease. Davidson has called Hickox a hero.

The news surrounding Ebola certainly brought issues of public health to public awareness. However over-exaggerated each retelling may have been, certainly having knowledge of a harmful disease can encourage precaution, and an argument can be made that too much concern is better than none. We may have the proper means of treatment here but the total mortality is approaching 7000 in West African countries alone. While the news about Ebola may have been sensationalized, public discussion of the disease was definitely not “much ado about nothing.”

Here is the 5- Minute breakdown, as concisely as possible, of the Ebola virus paraphrased from the World Health Organization’s factsheet on Ebola.

  • The Official Disease Name: Ebola hemorrhagic fever. 5 viruses may cause this disease under the blanket term “Ebola” although only four strains can cause severe illness in both humans and animals.

  • Cause: Ebola is believed to be a zoonotic disease, meaning it originated in animals. Scientists think that fruit bats are natural Ebola virus hosts. Ebola was transmitted to humans through contact with blood or other bodily secretions of infected animals such as fruit bats or chimps. This same contact with blood or bodily fluids results in the spread between humans.

  • Symptoms: flu-like symptoms, fever, severe headache, muscle pain, weakness/fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal (stomach) pain, unexplained bleeding or bruising. “Symptoms may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to Ebola, but the average is 8 to 10 days.” – The CDC

  • Risk: “Ebola is extremely infectious but not extremely contagious.” Any amount, whether a single virus or multiple, may lead to infection with the deadly Ebola fever.  Contact with the Ebola virus in any capacity may be deadly.  In terms of contagion, Ebola is not as high risk as influenza or measles which are airborne diseases.