“Ebola comes to Wiltshire” – now that’s a headline no one wants to read. The “E” word strikes fear into the hearts of many, but how many of us can say what Ebola is – let alone why it is so terror-inducing? As I write this, the Ebola virus continues to infect dozens of people in Africa. A deadly and incurable infection, the outbreak is currently contained to within a handful of small nations. But the thought of it coming to the UK is… well, a prospect that doesn’t bear thinking about.
A quick poll of my friends revealed that most of them didn’t know what Ebola is – and I suspect many of us are the same. It certainly isn’t a “flesh-eating superbug”, as one person said and a quick glance at the news reports show there are a lot of myths out there.
Here then is a quick and simple rundown of the key things you should know about the world’s most feared infection. (It doesn’t make for great bedtime reading.) Perhaps the most well-known thing about Ebola is what it can do to the body. It can produce symptoms straight out of a horror movie – bleeding from mouth, nose and other bodily orifices. More than that, the infection can cause violent seizures, shortness of breath, vomiting, diarrhoea, coma and, ultimately, death. The reality, however, is far less gruesome than that. The virus can stop the blood clotting, leading to damage to internal organs.
But heavy bleeding – the most feared symptom – is rare. Most Ebola symptoms are remarkably more mundane and similar to the flu: fever, aches, sickness and tiredness. And like other viruses, it takes days for symptoms to appear. Potentially, someone could travel quite a long way before realising they are infected. You could think of it as being like flu on steroids.
Ebola is a lethal disease and has fatality rates far higher than the flu and most other infections. But even this deadliness is exaggerated in the media. You will usually read that “90 per cent of the infected die” but in 2014 this simply isn’t true. Today’s stats are closer to 50 per cent and by receiving prompt medical treatment, odds are in favour of recovery.
However, Ebola isn’t easy to catch. It cannot be passed on through coughs and sneezes, like the flu can. It is only caught through physical contact with infected bodily fluids (blood, sweat, etc) and because of this, Ebola won’t make it to Wiltshire.
That is of little consolation for the people whose lives are being affected. Ebola outbreaks occur in impoverished rural regions of Africa – parts of the world in desperate need of help. These countries are the least equipped to cope with such calamities and there is currently no cure for Ebola. The outbreak is tragedy – but it is not the only one.
In these same countries, tens of thousands of children are dying from preventable diseases every year. Simple investments, basic medicines and education programmes could improve and save the lives of thousands – if not millions. This Ebola outbreak will probably take several months to end but when it does and the panic subsides, my sincerest hope is that the world’s conscience might be stirred to do more about the other tragedies affecting those areas. Even if they don’t scare us.