Ebola ravages West Africa, misconceptions on disease incite widespread panic

Namrata Sridhar, Ideas Manager

With over 4,000 deaths in West Africa alone, the mania over the recent virus is causing widespread panic, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The panic over Ebola has taken hold in countries around the world, including the United States and Spain.

In recent weeks, common cold and flu symptoms have been immediately thought to be the Ebola virus after the scare began in mid 2014. According to the CDC, Ebola is an infectious disease that originated with an outbreak in West Africa. It most recently surfaced in Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone in late July 2014.

The Ebola virus was first detected in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then, there have been sporadic outbreaks  of Ebola in Africa, according to the CDC. The virus is thought to be transmitted through bats, and four out of the five strains of the virus have been found in an animal host native to Africa.

On Sep. 30 a case of Ebola spread to Dallas, Texas. As of now, the United States has four confirmed cases of Ebola and one death. The CDC has also limited American interaction with West African countries and has placed enhanced screening precautions in five major airports including O’Hare that have over 94 percent of travellers from West African nations including Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

When Ebola spread to the United States, the CDC began to take necessary precautions by alerting hospitals around the nation. The response to possible cases of Ebola is called the “detect, protect and respond,” said Brigette Bucholz, Manager of Infection Prevention and Control at the Northwest Community Healthcare in Arlington Heights. The point is to ensure that the doctors are able to detect Ebola quickly and protect their staff from risk of exposure.

This disease is spread by touching bodily fluids, like blood, of a person who has been diagnosed or recently died from Ebola, Buchloz said. Some of the symptoms of Ebola are fever, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, internal bleeding and muscle pain.

Though there are some similarities with the flu, there are a few distinctions, Buchloz said. One of the main distinctions is that there are no upper respiratory symptoms, like coughing or sneezing, with Ebola as compared to the flu or the common cold. This disease is also very travel-specific and associated with traveling to countries who are currently affected by Ebola, Bucholz added.

One common misconception is that people can get Ebola through indirect contact, Bucholz said. No one can get Ebola from the air or water or through food. In order to get Ebola, there must be direct contact with the person or thing contaminated; for nurses and doctors, these things can be needles or blankets.

Most cases will find that close family or doctors are the ones to get the disease, said Madhavi Murali ’16.

As Future Doctors of America (FDA) Vice President, Murali utilizes weekly updates and messages during meetings to introduce new topics of interest to the club. Recently, the club’s discussion revolved around the Ebola virus.

According to the CDC, the risk in the general public for getting Ebola is very low as there is a very small chance for contact. However, sometimes symptoms do not occur within the first week, Murali said.

“We live in a very connected world where we know that the next ‘big’ disease is just a plane ride away,” Bucholz said.

With diseases like Ebola, there is a sense of “sensationalism” that comes with it, Bucholz said. Many United States citizens have very little knowledge at the moment, and therefore, there are a lot of questions. For many people, there is a lack of understanding that comes with new or uncommon diseases and with no known vaccine or cure, there is a large panic.

“Here at Stevenson, kids understand the symptoms of it, and they are not scared or currently at risk,” Murali said.

A panic can occur when people do not use reliable information or choose to believe the gossip that comes with the confusion, Amy Inselberger, AP biology teacher, said. If there are any questions, Inselberger urged students to ask their teachers, especially biology teachers who may be knowledgeable about the subject, to explain the issues surrounding Ebola.

For first responders like Rob Palffy, District Fire Chief in Des Plaines, IL, precautions are taken before the fire team is sent out when a distress call is made. Emergency dispatchers are trained to ask important and relevant questions in order to pre-screen patients prior to their arrival if there is suspicion of the disease, Palffy said.

However, Palffy is not worried too much about the Ebola virus coming to Chicago. There are more dangerous infectious diseases out in the world today, and people should not panic, Palffy said. In October, Palffy was sent to a meeting with several other fire chiefs to discuss the important aspects of Ebola and ways to protect the public from contracting this disease.

For students and the Stevenson community, it’s important to ask questions, Bucholz said. Information found on the CDC website also supplies students with everything needed to know about Ebola and how to stay healthy and safe.

Inselberger worries misinformation can cause fear. “It is easier to spread rumors than Ebola.”