West Africa under the Siege of Severe Ebola Virus Disease

The Ebola Virus disease presents the most severe outbreak in recorded history and is an ongoing epidemic throughout Guinea in West Africa. It is spreading to other parts of West Africa, particularly in Sierra Leone. It is the most severe in both the number of cases and in fatalities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and as of this writing, there is a total of 1201 suspected cases with 673 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Indeed, Sheik Umar Khan, the lead Sierra Leonean virologist (doctor) on the fight against stemming the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, succumbed and died from the virus on Tuesday (July 29th, 2014). The only reported US casualty so far  is US Naturalized Patrick Sawyer who  one year ago, celebrated his native Liberia’s Independence Day with his family and friends in suburban Minneapolis. According to NBC report, Sawyer collapsed on July 20th, 2014, after getting off an Arik Air flight from Liberia to Lagos, Nigeria. He was attending a conference in Nigeria and was planning a visit to “Coon Rapids next month to see his wife and his three daughters: Bella, 1, Mia, 4, and Eva 5.” That includes Nigeria on the list of affected West African countries. Recently, two U.S. humanitarian workers, and some other health care workers responding to the outbreak, become infected as well.

Different world charities and organizations, including the Economic Community of West African States, U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and European Commission have donated funds as well as mobilized resources and personnel to counter the outbreak. According to The WHO the risk of travelers contracting Ebola is relatively low because it requires direct contact with bodily fluids or secretions such as urine, blood, sweat or saliva. Ebola can’t be spread like flu through casual contact or breathing in the same air. Ebola’s earliest stages symptoms include fever, aches and a sore throat.

To stop this and other outbreaks from growing, the health care workers try to break the chain of transmission by identifying the people who have been in contact with a patient as well as isolate those who may be infected. A major difficulty in stopping the outbreak though is that there are still undetected chains of transmission in the affected communities. Major contributing factors towards the spread of the outbreak include both political issues and cultural trends. With a reasonable amount of distrust in these governments, there is a tendency to ignore the governmental message sources that are being delivered. Culturally, people may not trust that infected relatives are safe when quarantined within the governmental health care system. Additionally, they may not take the preventive measures that are necessary to stay safe.

Stephan Monroe, deputy director of CDC’s National Center for Emerging & Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, said:  “We are focusing on trying to identify, in each one of the communities that are affected, the trusted sources [of information], whether it be the village elder or religious leader, somebody who we can work with to teach them first what the appropriate messages are, so that people can then accept the messages.”

Because this Ebola outbreak is a first for West African countries, the local health care workers lack adequate training and have limited resources. CDC officials opined that these locals may have contributed to the disease’s spread because they failed to wear protective clothing when treating patients. But, this begs the question because the American workers who became infected were trained for responding to Ebola! So, this may be a sign of higher risk of exposure in clinical settings in these countries that have less supportive measures in place. Also, they are basically poor countries!

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