On the bright side, if a real pandemic hits the U.S., you'll probably die in the rioting caused by an irresponsible media.
— William K. Wolfrum (@Wolfrum) August 6, 2014
On Friday, the World Health Organization “declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa to be an international public health emergency that requires an extraordinary response to stop its spread.” The Boston Globe reports that experts believe they’ve identified the first victim in this particular epidemic:
Patient zero in the Ebola outbreak, researchers suspect, was a 2-year-old boy who died Dec. 6, just a few days after falling ill in a village in Guéckédou, in southeastern Guinea. Bordering Sierra Leone and Liberia, Guéckédou is at the intersection of three nations, where the disease found an easy entry point to the region.
A week later, it killed the boy’s mother, then his 3-year-old sister, then his grandmother. All had fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, but no one knew what had sickened them.
Two mourners at the grandmother’s funeral took the virus home to their village. A health worker carried it to still another, where he died, as did his doctor. They both infected relatives from other towns. By the time Ebola was recognized, in March, dozens of people had died in eight Guinean communities, and suspected cases were popping up in Liberia and Sierra Leone — three of the world’s poorest countries, recovering from years of political dysfunction and civil war…
Health experts have grown increasingly confident in recent years that they can control Ebola, Frieden said, based on success in places like Uganda.
But those successes hinged on huge education campaigns to teach people about the disease and persuade them to go to treatment centers. Much work went into getting people to change funeral practices that involve touching corpses, which are highly infectious.
But in West Africa, Ebola was unknown. In some areas, frightened and angry people have attacked health workers and even accused them of bringing in disease.
“Early on in the outbreak, we had at least 26 villages or little towns that would not cooperate with responders in terms of letting people into the village, even,” said Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the World Health Organization.
The outbreak has occurred in three waves: The first two were relatively small, and the third, starting about a month ago, was much larger, Hartl said. “That third wave was a clarion call,” he said.
For contrast purposes, the NY Daily News has an “exclusive interview” (including video) with the “27-year-old Brooklyn grad student” who fortunately did not bring the Ebola virus to NYC. And Carolyn Bankoff at NYMag has a piece on “How West African News Outlets Are Covering the Ebola Outbreak“.
I would also like to take this opportunity to recommend David Quammen’s 2012 book SPILLOVER: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic:
… Make no mistake, they are connected, these disease outbreaks coming one after another. And they are not simply happening to us; they represent the unintended results of things we are doing. They reflect the convergence of two forms of crisis on our planet. The first crisis is ecological, the second is medical. As the two intersect, their joint consequences appear as a pattern of weird & terrible new diseases, emerging from unexpeced sources and raising deep concern, deep foreboding, among the scientists who study them. How do such diseases leap from nonhuman animals into people, and why do they seem to be leaping more frequently in recent years? To put the matter in its starkest form: Human-caused ecological pressures and disruptions are bringing animal pathogens ever more into contact with human populations, while human technology and behavior are spreading those pathogens ever more widely and quickly…
(Page 39, paperback edition)