Editorial — Aug. 1, 2014

Staff ~ The Prince Albert Daily Herald
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There are very few places that it’s a smaller world than in the battle against disease.

The latest example is playing itself out right now as West Africa deals with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. More than 700 people have died in the nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, affecting three African capitals that have international airports.

For those unacquainted with this horrific disease, it’s caused by a virus. It begins with a fever before shutting down liver and kidney function, causing diarrhea and vomiting and quite often bleeding.

It’s estimated that about 50 to 60 per cent of the people who get it are going to die.

A big part of the problem is that Ebola has no effective treatment; there’s no needle that you can give to lessen the effects.

A sad side-effect is that the very people at the epicenter of the outbreak -- front-line, health-care workers -- are a good percentage of the victims. One of the dead was the chief doctor treating Ebola in Sierra Leone, a 39-year-old expert on hemorrhagic fevers.

The very clinics that people take the sick are the places they are most likely to die.

With this particular strain of the disease, about 60 per cent of people will not survive.

To get Ebola, you must have direct contact with bodily fluids; you can’t get it by walking by a victim and breathing air in the same vicinity that they are.

As a result, the risk to people who are travelling in the area isn’t high unless they have direct contact with the people.

But in a world as mobile as this one, that’s no longer an unthinkable proposition.

Consider the recent death of an American man named Patrick Stewart, who returned to Liberia to look after his ailing sister.

He died before he could board a plane to come home.

And that’s what is so scary. He could have returned before he got really sick.

It’s been the plot of many bad movies but it’s plausible in real life as well.

Consider how quickly the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) spread more than a decade ago between November of 2002 and July of 2003. There were 773 reported deaths in 17 countries. In Canada, 44 people died.

All of this came from a single man in the Guangdong Province in China contracting a then-unknown illness and dying soon after. The disease spread and soon a global pandemic was the result.

When scientists examine the possibilities, it’s a pair of thoughts that must keep them up at night.

The first is some sort of antibiotic-resistant micro-organism that is easily spread and doesn’t have obvious symptoms in an early contagious phase. That would have all of us wearing gloves and masks.

The second is also the stuff of a bad horror movie. What if a manmade concoction was loosed upon the globe, either purposely targeting a specific population or completely by accident.

And to finish the thought, what if the scientists then couldn’t find a way to put the cork back in the bottle?

Five hundred years ago, a disease like Ebola would have wiped out a village and the carnage may have stopped there.

Not anymore.

 

Prince Albert Daily Herald

Organizations: Prince Albert, Daily Herald

Geographic location: Liberia, Sierra Leone, West Africa Guinea Nigeria Canada Guangdong Province China

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