Did you forget about Ebola?

Ebola Ebola was big news in 2014. But we seem to have lost interest in it, especially now that no one in the US is being treated for the virus. While the number of cases in African countries is dropping, the epidemic and its repercussions are far from over. In fact, there are still important developments happening every day.

A promising new treatment An experimental antiviral drug has shown potential for treating early cases of Ebola. Favipiravir, which has also shown to be effective against influenza, West Nile, and yellow fever as well as other viruses, seems to drastically reduce mortality in patients who are not yet seriously ill. It doesn’t seem to help patients with severe Ebola infection. One of the most important advantages of favipiravir is that it is a pill. Other potential therapies must be kept frozen and are administered through infusion, leaving the health care worker at risk for needle sticks.

Red Cross aid workers suffer from attacks in Guinea In Guinea, public misconceptions about the role of aid workers and the mode of Ebola transmission have led to attacks on Red Cross and other volunteers conducting safe burials of deceased Ebola patients. While many Guineans understand and accept the practices the Red Cross uses to disinfect homes and bury Ebola victims, some are concerned that the Red Cross is actually spreading the virus. This has resulted in an average of 10 attacks per month. The Red Cross is warning that the violence against its volunteers is hampering its ability to contain and quell the epidemic.

Maybe Ebola can be transmitted through aerosols, but probably not One of the best things about this 28 day writing challenge is that through my research I found Carl Zimmer. I aspire to his level of health writing clarity and scientific rigour. His piece “Is It Worth Imagining Airborne Ebola?” does an excellent job of outlining the concerns expressed by a few scientists while also offering the counterpoints that help give those concerns context. Before you get carried away with alarmist headlines, take a look at what he has to say.

From soap and water to soap opera Sierra Leone is starting to move from the traditional forms of public health communication to a more innovative medium. Celebrities are partnering with a major bank to create a soap opera designed to help prevent transmission, explain treatment and safe burial practices, and dispelling myths about Ebola. One of the twelve episodes focuses on quarantine by centering around a family who is under quarantine. Through this storyline, the actors explain what happens during a quarantine and why adherence to it is crucial. In the major city of Freetown, the soap opera is broadcast on television, while in more rural areas, it plays on the radio.

Right now, the Ebola epidemic seems to be waning. However, this epidemic will resonate throughout the region for decades. Even as new public health issues surface, we would be well-served to remember what has and is happening in this part of Africa.

Raw milk, cholera, and Appalachia: Cool stuff I read this week

I came across a bunch of interesting articles and bits of news this week, and I thought I’d share them with you. Spend your lazy Sunday catching up on current events. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee released its recommendations this week. They encourage us to eat less sugar and saturated fat, but say we don’t really need to worry about our cholesterol intake.

There’s a new rapid test for Ebola.

Speaking of Ebola, Al Jazeera America ran a fascinating and discouraging two-part series on the social implications of the epidemic.

Although Haiti has improved its infrastructure in response to the epidemic, cholera is still a major problem in the country.

This interview with the Baltimore City health commissioner Dr. Leana Wen reminds us that public health isn’t just about Ebola and cholera and measles--it’s also about rat control and the social determinants of health. [Audio and abridged transcript.]

Flu season is starting to wind down.

The first broad study of two kinds of muscular dystrophy was published, revealing important epidemiological information about the disorders.

Despite some progress, Appalachia is still teeming with health disparities and poverty.

There’s a new tickborne virus in town.

For goodness’ sake, stop drinking raw milk. Pasteurization exists for a reason!

More than 25% of Americans with diabetes are undiagnosed. That’s 8.1 million diabetics who are not receiving treatment or making lifestyle changes.

Thank you, Alan Cumming, for using humor to highlight just how ridiculous the FDA’s new ruling restricting gay and bisexual men from donating blood unless they have been celibate for a year.

Alan Cumming Celibacy Challenge

 

Come back tomorrow for another Awesome Infographic!

If you live in the US and are worried about getting Ebola, you’re self-absorbed.

My dear friend Lisa shared this with me on Facebook: More Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died from Ebola.

 

I love a good Kim K jab, especially if it’s intended to calm down some of this Ebolanoia*. But I quickly realized that while it’s important to properly communicate how unlikely it is for someone in the US to be infected with Ebola, it is equally important not to downplay the seriousness of what’s happening in West Africa.

 

At this point, we’ve all talked with a person who’s terrified of contracting Ebola. Or maybe we’re that person ourselves. But honestly, the likelihood of someone in the US coming down with it is miniscule. There have been three confirmed cases and a total of 172 people are under surveillance due to their contact with the three cases. Sixty of those people have completed surveillance and are healthy. Ebola’s R0, the number of people one person with a disease is likely to infect unless precautions are taken, is between 1.5 and 2.

 

And precautions are being taken. We have been quarantining anyone who’s come into contact with the Ebola patients in the US. Ebola is only contagious once a person starts showing symptoms, so if someone in quarantine—the only people who had direct contact with the confirmed cases—shows symptoms, the newly-sick person will not be able to infect anyone else. This means that Ebola will almost certainly not be a problem in the US.

 

However, Ebola is a huge problem in West Africa. In the countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, more than 9000 people have contracted the disease, and half of them have died. People living in these countries are the ones who are at risk, not those of us sitting comfortably on our couches reading (and/or writing) blog posts about Ebola.

 

So, those of us in the US shouldn’t be worried about catching Ebola. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be worried. We just need to be worried about the right thing.

 

Although it’s killing West Africans almost exclusively, Ebola is a world-wide health concern. Not just in a don’t-want-to-spread-the-disease kind of way, but because every life matters. Each person infected with Ebola has a basic human right—the right to health—taken from them. This is an avoidable travesty. We know how to stop the epidemic, and yet we are not. The lives of the people of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other West African nations are meaningful.

 

If you’re one of the people who are convinced they’ll get Ebola sitting in a movie theater in New Jersey or on a plane to Kansas City, I urge you to channel that anxiety into something more constructive. Donations to organizations doing good work will likely be the best way to help. CNN has a good list. If financial support isn’t an option for you, become an educated megaphone for sane Ebola information. Learn what’s really going on and post about it on Facebook, talk to your coworkers, email your mom.

 

And if you make any more Kardashian+Ebola memes, send them my way.

 

 

*a portmanteau of Ebola and paranoia. I discovered and fell in love with this term via Maryn McKenna.