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Editorial: Ebola precautions provide valuable experience

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | OCTOBER 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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With the death toll steadily rising because of the spread of Ebola as well as a rise in the number of confirmed cases in the United States, many have become fearful about a possible epidemic. The Ebola virus has quickly become a household name synonymous with slow, excruciating death.

Although it was initially limited to countries in Africa, the spread of the virus on a global scale has led to widespread panic and renewed focus on preventive measures. Ebola is characterized by severe external and internal bleeding, which is a result of extensive weakening of the immune system and the body’s organs.

Despite being a fairly uncommon illness that is not airborne, the astonishingly low survival rate would make widespread infection a global catastrophe. That the illness can only be spread when symptoms are apparent makes the tracking of infected persons difficult until they become a risk to those around them.

The threat of Ebola has spurred preparation across the nation to combat a potential pandemic despite the few confirmed cases of Ebola patients as of now. The first Ebola patient to die in the U.S was Thomas Eric Duncan, who passed away in a Texas hospital Oct. 8. Two of the nurses who treated Duncan, Nina Pham and Amber Joy Vinson, have contracted the virus, which has raised concerns about the management of treatment of Ebola in the United States. The danger being that even though Ebola doesn’t spread as fast other illnesses, the levels of stringency required to treat the virus without spreading it makes it difficult to treat even a few patients.

Concern has led many states to take enhanced precautions in screening for Ebola at airports as well the closing of two schools in Ohio. Nationwide fear has even caused President Obama to drastically alter his schedule and forgo planned trips to focus his attention on the spread of the virus. Almost as important as managing the actual disease is proper management of the fear that coincides with it. As the leader of the country, it is important for the president to demonstrate authority and competence in the early stages of the possible Ebola crisis before mass hysteria breaks out.

The notion of a nationwide pandemic is reminiscent of the outbreak of H1N1 in 2009-2010 which killed thousands worldwide. Although Ebola has not become as prevalent across the globe as H1N1, the fear of uncontainable spreading of the illness is still a genuine concern. A notable distinction between the two is that the existence of a vaccine greatly mitigated the spread of H1N1, while there is no such vaccine for Ebola (there is an experiment drug named ZMapp that has shown promise in treating the disease, but it has not yet been thoroughly tested for safety and effectiveness in humans).

Only time will tell if the fears of Ebola will turn out to be blown out of proportion, but regardless, extensive measures and precautions should be taken to prevent the needless loss of life in the United States and abroad. And no matter the outcome, the Ebola scare has provided a stress test for the nation’s treatment facilities and containment plans that could prove invaluable during future outbreaks of deadly diseases.


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