The news released by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other sources about this 2014 Ebola virus outbreak continues to be grim. According to a recent media release by the WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan stated that this Ebola outbreak was “the largest, most complex and most severe we’ve ever seen.”
She further states that current containment efforts are ineffective, and that only an increased international response could help detain and control this outbreak. Per this chart released by the WHO, this 2014 outbreak is the deadliest in recorded history. It surpasses the outbreak of 1976, and it has surged ahead of all other outbreaks, making this an incomparable occurrence of the deadly Ebola virus.
I find this news scary and discouraging. It reminds me of a book I love, “Flu” by Gina Kolata, a science reporter for the New York Times. It details the influenza pandemic of 1918, which killed around 40 million people worldwide. Thankfully, the Ebola virus has not nearly reached such massive proportions – but all outbreaks of deadly viruses have the potential too do so.
The estimates at this point are 1900 confirmed deaths and 3500 confirmed cases of Ebola. These current Ebola infection rates are frightening, but not nearly the proportions of the 1918 flu epidemic, which brought about current flu vaccination policies, as well as the CDC.
The book “Flu” tells of an epidemic in ancient Greece, in the city of Athens. It was the year 431 BC, and for more than a year, the epidemic raged. The symptoms of the disease were described as fever, redness and inflammation in the eyes, and the throat and tongue becoming bloody. Agonizing abdominal cramps were experienced by many. Some victims felt so hot from the fever they would throw themselves into rain tanks, probably contaminating the water supply. Doctors and nurses who tried to care for the sick began to fall ill and die of the same disease, and Athenians became fearful. The healthy began to turn away from their sick friends and family, holing themselves up their homes. The sick perished from neglect. The city was never the same after the plague, and to this day it is not known what caused the outbreak.
The report from the WHO is eerily similar. Not the symptoms of the disease necessarily, although this ancient outbreak could very well have been Ebola, or a disease similar to Ebola. WHO Assistant Director-General for Global Health Security, Keiji Fukuda said, “We don’t have enough health workers, doctors, nurses, drivers, and contact tracers, to handle the increasing number of cases. Most of the infections are happening in the community, and many people are unwilling to identify themselves as ill. And if they do, we don’t have enough ambulances to transport them or beds to treat them yet.” Furthermore, he noted “The WHO does not recommend any travel or trade restrictions be applied except in cases where individuals have been confirmed or are suspected of being infected with Ebola virus disease or where individuals have had contact with cases of Ebola.”
Currently, many airline routes have been closed to affected countries, impeding the flow of vital supplies and medical personnel. This trend is eerily similar to the Athenian outbreak, where everyone was afraid to help their friends and family, for fear of transmission of the virus. Thankfully, we know how Ebola is transmitted, and how to protect ourselves. If we have learned anything from the pandemics of our past, it is that they have to be treated and contained, not ignored and allowed to sort themselves out. Let us hope that the WHO and the UN can work together to get the funds and personnel they need to contain this current outbreak, and save as many lives as they can.
About the Author
Rebecca Kinnebrew, RN. is currently employed at a large southeastern hospital, working in a busy cardiac unit. Her previous experiences include geriatric and maternal nursing. Almost all of her family works in healthcare, either as doctors or nurses, so since a young age she has been exposed to the real issues facing healthcare workers and patients. When she is not saving lives or holding the hand of those easing out of this life, she writes about those experiences, as well as other topics. When she isn’t juggling her work hats, she plays tennis obsessively, works in her yard, and cares for her stepson, husband, and little furball.
Feig, Christy; Eberwine-Villagrán, Donna; Epstein, Daniel. UN senior leaders outline needs for global Ebola response. World Health Organization Website, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/ebola-response-needs/en/
Kolata, Gina Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused it. New York; Simon and Schuster, 1999.