Will the Ebola Virus Spread Outside of Africa?

ebolaThe Ebola virus has emerged again in Africa, only this time striking on the Western Coast. The virus is believed to have originated from a two year old boy who lived in the border village of Guéckédou in Guinea. The village lies close to developed roads that bring travelers into Sierra Leone and Liberia. As the virus spread from relatives and friends of the boy’s family it too quickly crossed borders into the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia before health officials were alerted of the outbreak. Today the nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are trying their best to contain this deadly virus, as more cases continue to surface in their nations. As of August 8, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports there are 1,779 Ebola virus cases with the death toll at 961. With the fatality rate reaching 54%, the rest of the world is concerned the virus will spread out of Africa and into their countries. What would happen if the virus spread outside of Africa?

The Ebola virus known as the “Hemorrhagic fever” quickly attacks its victims. People infected will first experience high fevers, diarrhea, sore throats, headaches and muscle weaknesses As the fever takes over, the virus impairs the kidneys and liver causing internal and external bleeding. There is currently no cure and the disease is highly contagious. If the virus is not contained in Africa and allowed to enter other continents the situation could be catastrophic.

All it takes is essentially for one infected person to get on a plane and fly to another country. Already this has been demonstrated in Nigeria. One infected airline passenger flew into Nigeria last month and managed on that one plane ride to infect eight more people. The virus is spread from the blood, bodily fluids and secretions of infected person. Fortunately it is not airborne. But what if an infected person used the airplane bathroom and then an unassuming passenger uses the same bathroom shortly thereafter? Blood, saliva and urine particles can linger on toilet seats and sinks undetected to our naked eyes. It just takes one person to accidentally touch a contaminated surface to become infected. In a confined space such as an airplane bathroom, the risk of infection is high.

The CDC admit that the virus can reach U.S. soil quite easily if an infected person were to fly over here, but they are confident they could isolate the situation. John O’Connor, a spokesperson for the CDC stated during his interview with ABC News last week, “It’s true that anyone with an illness is just one plane ride away from coming to the U.S., but we have protections in place”.

The protections he speaks of are CDC quarantine teams placed strategically in 20 U.S. airports to immediately respond to any patients that show worrying telltale signs of the virus. How does the team respond to the other hundreds of passengers that were on that same flight? Are they all isolated?

The problem with the Ebola virus, like any virus, is it takes awhile for the victims to show symptoms. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports the Ebola virus incubation period is anywhere from 2 to 21 days. That means if an infected person were to infect another person while traveling on the same plane, the newly infected person can be roaming freely around the United States for 21 days interacting with hundreds of people before finally showing symptoms of the virus. Do you see how severe the situation could become in a city with a population such as New York City? The CDC may wish to tone down the severity of the situation but the reality is if the Ebola virus were not immediately contained at the airport, Americans will be facing the same fate as the citizens of these West African nations.

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