Wednesday, August 6, 2014

More updates on the Ebola outbreak

Here are some more updates on the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The current state of the epidemic:

  • WHO confirms that the death toll currently stands at 932 and pledges $2 million to help the fight against the spread of the virus.
  • The US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a Level 3 travel warning, advising against non-essential travel to the countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where the outbreak is at its worst. CDC Director Tom Frieden has called this the "biggest and most complicated Ebola outbreak in history."
  • There are now five confirmed cases of Ebola in Nigeria, all of whom were involved with caring for a Liberian-American man who flew into Lagos from Sierra Leone and ultimately died. A nurse involved in the man's treatment has also died after acquiring the virus from her patient.
  • A suspected Ebola victim in Saudi Arabia, a man who recently visited Sierra Leone, has now died. If the virus indeed caused the man's death, this will be the first Ebola-related death outside of Africa.

Trouble in Sierra Leone:

  • An official from Doctors Without Borders has appealed for help from international organizations, claiming that the Sierra Leone government is unable to deal with the outbreak.
  • Quarantine measures imposed by the Sierra Leone government are not being strictly enforced, making it harder to control the spread of the virus. This is due in part to decades of antipathy towards the state. Many also believe that the present outbreak has been caused by witchcraft and sorcery, and place greater faith in witch doctors and traditional healers. A deep-rooted distrust of Western medicine and its emissaries, doctors and foreign aid workers, is making things worse.
  • Author Richard Preston tracks Ebola in Kenema, Sierra Leone.

The latest in treatments being developed for Ebola:

  • The BBC covers the current state of experimental treatments.
  • Two Americans who contracted Ebola in Liberia have been flown back to the US to receive an experimental monoclonal antibody-based treatment on an emergency basis. The therapy has not yet been tested in humans or received official sanction from the FDA. Nonetheless, unhappy Liberians are demanding to know why they are being told that there is no cure for Ebola, when the Americans seem to have one.
  • The co-discoverer of the Ebola virus, Peter Piot, argues in an opinion piece that experimental treatments should be tested in affected countries with support from the WHO.

And finally:

  • The threat of an Ebola outbreak in the developed world is still low, despite all the furore. This is largely because Ebola is not transmitted via the airborne route, only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. Quarantine, if correctly enforced, should be effective at halting the virus in its tracks.
  • Malaysian glove manufacturers are anticipating a boom in business thanks to Ebola. Tellingly, they anticipate the main consumers to be from the developed world,  "rather than from developing countries like Africa (sic) where glove consumption is low.” Low glove consumption can help to explain how Ebola is spreading so rapidly.
  • Author Laurie Garrett (do read her book The Coming Plague, if you haven't done so already) profiled the 1995 Ebola outbreak in Zaire, and it still makes for relevant reading.

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