With Ebola cases cropping up in the United States and in other Western nations, the disease has gained the attention of Americans; with that attention has come mass paranoia and many misconceptions about the disease. To help dispel misconceptions about Ebola, a panel of experts was gathered to communicate the truth about the outbreak. This panel was sponsored by Sigma Iota Rho, the International Studies honor society, the International Studies program, the Anthropology program and the Salameno School of Humanities and Global Studies.
These experts included Professor Sara Bergstresser, who teaches medical anthropology, senior Brianne Kennedy, who gained experience about Ebola through her internship, student Abdulai Swaray, who is from Sierra Leone, one of the epicenters of the Ebola virus, and Assistant Dean of Nursing Programs Kathleen Burke, who has close connections to people in Sierra Leone.
The panel started by addressing the Ebola disease itself—how it spreads, the symptoms it presents and how it can be treated. The virus is exclusive to mammals, and the main transmission from animals to humans is predicted to occur through human consumption of the fruit bat, which is a common meal in parts of West Africa.
With regards to how it spreads from human to human, Burke stressed that “the virus spreads through contact with blood and other bodily fluids, it is not airborne … you are not going to get Ebola if you sit in a room together and breath on each other.”
As the symptoms begin to present themselves, the virus load increases and more bodily fluids are excreted like vomit, blood and diarrhea. At this point the victim becomes contagious. It is also important to note that the most common way an individual gets Ebola in America is from improperly removing their protective gear.
Symptoms of Ebola include flu-like symptoms like fever and fatigue, as well as more unique ailments such as abdominal stomach pain, a raised rash and unexplained bleeding, usually from the eyes.
Ebola is a RNA, or ribonucleic acid, virus, which affects every organ in the body that facilitates the ability to repair itself through clotting and other means. This leads to both external and internal bleeding, which then causes a loss in blood pressure. The oxygen carried by the red blood cells cannot get to the cells of the body fast enough, often leading to the death of the victim.
That being said, the treatment of Ebola is relatively simple; it entails supportive care — the treatment of symptoms. With the usage of blood transfusions, ventilators and intravenous fluids, people can survive this disease, provided that they start treatment early.
Tragically, it is hard for people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to get treatment early. The panel explained that nations like Sierra Leone suffer from economic depression and a poor medical structure, with only two doctors per 100,000 people, compared to the U.S., which has 240 doctors per 100,000 people. The medical infrastructure of Sierra Leone was devastated due to the 11-year civil war that took place from 1991 to 2002.
This panel offered students the chance to educate themselves on what has been a very hot topic in the news lately. Students like Mariel Montana and Laura Christie took advantage of the information this panel presented.
Christie appreciated talking “about the facts and how it is primarily focused on only three African countries," while Montana enjoyed the firsthand account of the situation in Africa from Swaray.
“It was very interesting,” said Montana. “It was nice to hear the actual experiences of what is happening in Sierra Leone from someone who's actually from there.”