The concern about the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States is making headlines, but for many Ebola is a disease confined to West Africa. We predicted the first case of Ebola would be diagnosed by the end of September- we just made it.
Ebola will get worse before it gets better. Here is why:
(a) In spite of a commitment to bring the military to help, this is going to take time.
The only real course of action we have is to increase the number of Ebola treatment centers that are outfitted with enough supplies to bring infected patients in, treat them, and provide proper disposal of infected materials (and, sadly, burials). Doctors Without Borders, as we noted in our previous article, is taking the lead on this. The governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea do not have the resources or ability to do this on their own. Liberia has made gross errors in attempting quarantine. The limited resources of aid organizations is taxed to the limit. You can help- we recommend Doctors Without Borders.
Getting the US military there seems an easy fix- but this is a huge endeavor, and will take time- but while it takes time the infection continues to spread.
(b) Anti-viral drugs or Vaccines
While both anti-viral drugs and vaccines are undergoing human trials- they are experimental. We don’t know if they will work in humans, we don’t know if they will cause more harm in humans. But clearly speeding this process up is imperative to stopping the deadly virus spread. The problem them becomes distribution of the vaccine, or the drugs, and payment for such. We have, for example, drugs to treat malaria, but still over 3,000 people a day die from the disease.
Odds of Ebola being transmitted in the United States before the end of the year- about 25%. This could happen from illegally imported bushmeat. Chances are it will be from someone like the patient in Dallas- arrives from a West African Country, develops symptoms later, and infects friends and family. Much like the Dallas patient, they went to the emergency room, where the physician didn’t take a history of travel or begin appropriate precautions (placement in an isolation ward with frequent laboratory tests for Ebola).
The international community waited too long to respond to this epidemic, and it will be spreading faster than a forest fire in Arizona.
What can you do? Not much. Your odds of contracting this virus are very small. Emergency room physicians need to take travel histories (as do all physicians when treating ill patients). The best thing you can do is donate to the international organizations that are on the front line of this epidemic. It is as bad as you can imagine.
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and received his MD. Dr. Simpson, a renowned weight loss surgeon, is a leading advocate of culinary medicine. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.