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  • When it comes to Ebola, the first thing you need to know is that dying from the virus

  • is like something out of a horror movie--extremely painful and terrifying. First, you get a fever;

  • then uncontrollable diarrhea; then you begin hemorrhaging blood; and while all that’s

  • hitting you, you lose touch with reality and become delirious.

  • Finally, within days, you are dead.

  • West Africa is currently in the midst of by far the worst case of the disease since it

  • was first discovered in Africa back in 1976. This year’s outbreak has been traced to

  • a two year old boy who died on December 6th, 2013 in a village in Guinea. He probably got

  • the virus by eating contaminated food that had been drooled or defecated on by a bat,

  • or - as is common in this part of the world - had eaten some bat for dinner. Bats, researchers

  • believe, are the carriers of the disease. As if the two year old’s death wasn’t

  • tragic enough, a week after it killed him, it killed his mother, his 3-year-old sister,

  • and then his grandmother.

  • Now, it’s customary in some African villages to prepare a body for burial through the extremely

  • sanitary cleansing ritual that involves evacuating the body all food and excreta, often using

  • just bare hands. Since the disease is spread by bodily fluids getting into the eyes, nose

  • or mouth, it’s no surprise that two people who travelled to the grandmother’s funeral

  • caught Ebola and brought it home to their villages. After escaping ground zero, the

  • highly contagious, undetected virus was off to the races.

  • By the end of March, Ebola had reached Liberia, and in June, the first case was reported in

  • Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city. That’s when outbreaks like this really start to spread,

  • when the infected people make their way to population centers during the incubation phase,

  • before their symptoms begin. A group of people from Sierra Leone who had travelled to an

  • Ebola victim’s funeral brought the disease back across the border, and in late July,

  • the virus had hit Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.

  • Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are three of the 17 nations that form the Economic Community

  • of West African States, whose combined territory is roughly half the land area of the United

  • States, but with a population roughly the same - at 340,000,000 - it’s about twice

  • as dense as America. And since the disease is easily passed from person to person, and

  • there are lots of people here, it’s crucial to get outbreaks like this under control as

  • quickly as possible, especially since a staggering 47% - or 2,984 - of the just over 6,400 people

  • who have been sickened by this strain of Ebola have died.

  • So understandably, this is terrifying to neighboring countries, who have responded by shutting

  • down their borders. Still, Nigeria - the largest country in Africa by population and economic

  • output - couldn’t keep the disease beyond its borders when an infected Liberian-American

  • named Patrick Sawyer flew into Nigeria’s largest city and died shortly thereafter.

  • A Nigerian doctor named Stella Ameyo Adadevoh stopped Sawyer from leaving the hospital,

  • stopping the spread of Ebola to the 21,000,000 people living in Lagos. Sadly, Dr. Adadevoh

  • contracted Ebola and died, but she left this world a hero by helping to successfully limit

  • the outbreak to just 21 cases and 8 deaths in her country. No new cases have been reported

  • in Nigeria in weeks.

  • Liberia’s experience, however, has been the exact opposite. The disease is out of

  • control there. Cases doubled in the three weeks between August 31st and September 22.

  • As a response, Liberia’s Harvard-educated president - Nobel Peace Prize Winner Ellen

  • Johnson-Sirleaf (the first female head of state in the history of Africa) - had no choice

  • but to order a lockdown of a highly-infected slum in the capital. This didn’t last long

  • though as an angry crowd attacked an Ebola center and freed the infected.

  • The second hardest-hit country, Sierra Leone, has resorted to an unprecedented, three-day,

  • nationwide lockdown of its 6 million residents in an effort to halt the disease.

  • But these countries are fighting an uphill battle. Many parts of West Africa lack even

  • proper sanitation or drinking water. Too many people are poorly educated, scared, and mistrustful.

  • To add insult to injury, aid workers keep getting attacked for spreading information

  • about Ebola or trying to collect the bodies of the disease’s victims. And in September,

  • an entire team of eight aid workers was murdered by villagers in Guinea.

  • When American health care workers in Liberia contracted the disease and had to be flown

  • to the United States for life-saving treatment, the rest of the world was shaken by the possibility

  • of Ebola spreading outside of Africa’s borders. It was the first time an Ebola-infected person

  • had stepped foot on American soil.

  • But it wasn’t the first time someone on western soil had been infected. In 1976, the

  • year of the first documented Ebola outbreak, a British scientist named Geoffrey Platt,

  • researching the disease in a lab in England, accidentally stabbed himself with a syringe

  • containing the virus. As the unmistakable symptoms of Ebola set in over the next few

  • days, the British government acted swiftly. Platt was transported in a special ambulance

  • under police escort to a London hospital where he was the lone patient. He was kept in an

  • isolation chamber and all hospital staff working on his case were quarantined, as was his family

  • and any lab workers and friends he had come in contact with. The extreme action worked,

  • Platt recovered without infecting anyone else.

  • But the current incarnation of Ebola is threatening to overwhelm the much more economically-challenged

  • West African region. Answering the call to action, the United States military is taking

  • the lead in overseeing and coordinating the response to the epidemic. In addition to US

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff who have been there for weeks,

  • President Obama has ordered 3,000 American troops to West Africa to build 17, 100-bed

  • treatment centers and a site capable of training 500 health-care workers a week. The US response

  • is worth an estimated $750 million over the next 6 months. The Bill and Melinda Gates

  • Foundation has alone donated $60 million, and the foundation of Paul Allen, Gates

  • co-founder of Microsoft, has given nearly $12 million.

  • The American-led international response may come just in time, as infection levels were

  • spiking exponentially in the middle of September. If no help had come, some experts were fearing

  • the disease could have overwhelmed the region and spread until it exhausted its host population,

  • killing hundreds of thousands or even millions of Africans, all the time increasing the odds

  • that it could make its way off the continent. The World Health Organization now optimistically

  • hopes to control Ebola by mid-2015, limiting the death-toll to around 10,000.

  • Thanks for watching this installment of The Daily Conversation. If you’d like us to

  • tackle a particular subject in this mini-documentary format, leave your idea in a comment below.

  • Until next time, I’m Bryce Plank.

When it comes to Ebola, the first thing you need to know is that dying from the virus

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Ebola: The 2014 Outbreak Explained

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    kevin posted on 2014/10/11
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