Friday, 1 August 2014

Ebola Of A Threat

There was a low level, but increasingly concerning health threat developing in Africa when I wrote this post ....its now grown alarmingly. I have been following the story for the last few weeks, in the hope that that it would actually fizzle out. It is of course the current outbreak of the very deadly Ebola virus in West Africa, the symptoms of which include fever, diarrhoea and vomiting, followed by bleeding, and eventually pretty much a high risk of death, with mortality rates often between 50% and 90%.

The virus was first identified in September 1976, when the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, was asked by a Belgian Doctor in the Congo to confirm what 'mystery' bug was killing people in what was then Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The package was a standard Thermos flask containing blood samples, some of which were broken and had leaked inside the flask .... had he known what he was being exposed to, the researcher Peter Piot would have run ... literally for his life. Instead, he was merely curious.

Mr Piot (right) and Ebola Virus

Initially examination showed a very large virus, which exhibited as being similar to the Marburg virus of the late 1960's (where the laboratory staff caught it from infected monkeys imported from Uganda), but obviously something different ....  Mr Piot flew to Zaire, and then went deep into the jungles to the village of Yambuku, where the latest outbreak was being reported, and discovered the cause of transmission ... direct contact e.g shared needles, or washing the dead. Initial transmission into a human population was via 'bushmeat' (Fruit bats seemingly carry and spread the disease without being affected by it and were eaten locally). They named the new virus after the local river, and not the village to limit local stigmatisation.

Treatment For Ebola Outbreak Not Changed Much Since Zaire 1976

What's most disturbing about this latest outbreak is that there is still no vaccine or cure, and the advice for containing this outbreak is much the same as it was in the 1970s. "Soap, gloves, isolating patients, not reusing needles and quarantining the contacts of those who are ill - in theory it should be very easy to contain Ebola," according to Mr Piot.

However, superstition amongst the natives is a factor that doesn't help, and something that Mr Piot didn't encounter. For instance in the current outbreak in Sierra Leone, treatment centres have seen a sudden drop in referrals, because local shamans have accused them of using witchcraft, and even of murdering the patients for body parts. There are also rumours swirling around that the Ebola is stronger in the hospitals, that its 'ju-ju', 'mu-tu', 'urongo', or whatever the local term is, makes it more dangerous there. This all stems from the very high death rates, which mean many who go in to treatment centres never come out again alive.      

Modern treatment is just as basic as then, rehydration of victims, controlling bleeding and antibiotics to treat secondary infections .... we are just lucky that its a disease of "poverty, and of dysfunctional health systems" .... but as the Marburg virus outbreak showed, globalisation means that we are only ever a few hours away from those evils.    


  1. Just a few hours away from those things which mysteriously show us how much God loves us.

    1. There is a fear that if Ebola arrives in a major western capital and the carrier is an illegal, it could spread very quickly. If not Ebola, then maybe the next plague. We should be banning West African flights now!

    2. Well metaphysics aside, I have to agree that its a fact that if not Ebola then something else will sweep through the teeming ranks of humanity, sooner rather than later. How we handle it, may depend upon whether we believe that God loves us or not.

  2. Looks as though they have finally got to grips with this outbreak, judging by the lack of news coverage. Still the fact that it took months, and not weeks, suggests it was a closer run thing than many in the W.H.O. may be prepared to admit in public. It's just a matter of time until the use of 'bushmeat' in Africa, passes on some disease we have no weapon against. Globalisation will do the rest.

    1. Ah the good doctor! I agree with your diagnosis and yes, I suspect its been a close run thing .... next time will come. Thanks for the comment.

  3. You people may be counting chickens too soon

    Its in the US now.

    1. Good point well made .... thanks for the comment.


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