The hysteria and hype over the return to the United States of aid workers Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, both infected with the Ebola virus in Africa, has been over the top. News and social media portrayed them as pathogenic juggernauts who might carry a horrible condition to our shores.
These workers should be given a heartfelt salute for having the courage to serve on the front lines of a battle as fierce as any in the world today. Fortunately, both are said to be improving.
Another 50 workers are being sent to the Ebola hot zone in West Africa by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They, too, deserve our respect, but even this reinforcement cadre will not be able to extinguish the virus. More manpower and contributions from around the world are urgently needed.
Although Ebola has a high mortality rate, transmission requires close contact and exchange of bodily fluids such as blood, sweat or saliva between people. With a well-developed public health infrastructure, the virus is not likely to become a contagion in the United States. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, has said that the single most important thing that can be done to protect Americans is to stop Ebola at its source in Africa. That’s where the attention is needed.
Examining the reasons for large outbreaks like this, researchers Daniel G. Bausch and Lara Schwarz report that economic deprivation drives people deeper into the forests to survive, enhancing their risk of exposure to the Ebola virus. Then, when they get infected, poorly resourced health systems cannot cope with proper equipment and protective gear. The virus spreads from hospitals back into villages and cities. Fear and mistrust often greet relief workers trying to control it. An outbreak is sparked.
The World Health Organization is attempting to organize a $100 million response plan, and troops were deployed in Sierra Leone and Liberia to help fight the outbreak with quarantines. The Ebola virus can be stopped, but instead of hysteria, it needs a serious commitment of people and resources.