The Ebola virus is bad news. The virus has a 90% fatality rate when left untreated and a 60% fatality rate when medical treatment is administered. And that very virus has now landed on U.S. soil having infected American missionary workers Dr. Kent Brantly, who arrived at Atlanta’s Emory Hospital on August 3rd, and Nancy Writebol who will arrive at Emory later today. Brantly and Writebol are said to have improved dramatically since becoming infected in Liberia in late July thanks to an experimental drug called ZMAPP. Despite the assurances from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and hospital administration at Emory that claim the risk of spreading Ebola in the U.S. is low, are you okay with bringing these workers to the U.S. to receive treatment knowing that this could result in the spread of Ebola in our country?
How do you contract Ebola?
One of the main concerns about bringing Brantly and Writebol home for medical treatment is the threat of spreading the virus. Ebola is not an airborne pathogen, but can be transmitted through exposure to items that have been infected and by being exposed to bodily fluids of the person infected. Given this definition, it seems highly unlikely that the virus would spread in the U.S., right? Well, that depends. Health care workers are most likely to become infected because they work in environments where people suffer from one aliment or another. Ebola symptoms closely resemble those of the common cold or flu in its early stages, so hospital workers may not take the necessary precautions to guard against their own infection and the spread of the disease.
What is causing even more concern is whether Emory is even able to contain the virus properly. After all, Brantly and Writebol traveled to Liberia knowing they were going to work in hospitals and areas where diseases such as Ebola existed and still became infected. What if American health workers accidentally expose themselves and their families due to an error in hospital protocol?
After infection, what can we expect?
After infected, patients will most likely appear to have flu-like symptoms. That could be the catalyst for the spread of Ebola in the U.S. Doctors, thinking that the symptoms support a flu diagnosis, will not wear any sort of real protective clothing. After a few days, patients will begin to suffer from vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches. Assuming the patient has survived to this point, the virus will get significantly worse and the patient will suffer from severe respiratory issues and internal/external bleeding and will most likely die within days.
The Huffington Post has illustrated the stages of Ebola symptoms from exposure to death:
Should we bring such a deadly virus to the U.S.?
Given how indistinguishable Ebola symptoms are from the flu, is it really safe to treat Ebola patients in the U.S.? The drug used to treat Brantly and Writebol is said to be working, but it is considered experimental. That means it has not gone through clinical trials (it has only been tested on monkeys at this point) or received any sort of approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which has only authorized this drug for “compassionate use”. What this all means is that if an outbreak occurs in the U.S., you are not likely to be allowed to use ZMAPP and would face the same odds as everyone else – a 10-40% potential of surviving the infection. The fatality rate for children and the elderly has the potential be significantly higher because they lack the same ability to fight off infections as young, healthy adults.
With such a high fatality rate and the lack of real treatment options available, how safe do you feel knowing that there are people infected with Ebola in the U.S.? Better yet, should we bring such a deadly virus here knowing the risks?
Images: Huffington Post and NBC News