The world is waiting to see if Ebola has made the leap from the African continent to make a serious assault on the rest of the world.
As two cases were confirmed in the U.S. and another in Spain during the past few days, the primary focus of global governments is to contain the virus and prevent its spread; an armament of international aid has been drafted into affected areas, but the many West African people under attack on the front lines of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia appear to be defenseless against its might.
In Sierra Leona, 121 deaths and 81 new cases were recorded in one day as Ebola rampaged through its provinces, the most in any single day so far, bringing the total of people infected to over 7,000. Of these, over 3,400 people are known to have succumbed to the disease so far.
International and internal flights to the afflicted zones have been restricted by many airline,s as there is a widespread fear that a sick passenger could potentially infect other passengers and airline crew members, but there are criticisms that this is not really necessary as Ebola is not yet known to be an airborne disease. The U.S. is still allowing flights in from "Ebola Zones" as they maintain that transmission via bodily fluids is unlikely. Passenger screening is in place at many airports, including elevated temperatures as one of the first symptoms of Ebola is a fever.
Hiccups is another early symptom, along with blood shot eyes, so airport staff are being trained to look out for these warning signs.
However, many experts feel that passenger screening will fail. The first thought of people who may be exhibiting early symptoms and who have the means to fly will be to leave countries like Sierra Leone for the west. Over most of West Africa, the already minimal health care system has broken down completely. Far better care is available elsewhere, and it’s easy to hide the earliest symptom of Ebola by simply taking a fever reducer like Aspirin.
So the world is trying to keep Ebola constrained in Africa, but what is the stark reality of living in these affected areas?
In West Africa, it has been common for whole families to have been wiped out by Ebola; babies and children are being orphaned overnight only to contract the illness themselves a short time later. Those who do fall sick are not always able to find any medical care, often being turned away from hospital after hospital in their desperate search for a spare bed and available nursing staff. Yet if sick patients are returned to the community, they risk infecting dozens more people and propagating the spread of Ebola still further. Unless they know that their symptoms are definitely consistent, some sufferers are scared to visit the hospitals for fear of contracting the disease from existing in-patients.
People are afraid to go out for fear of becoming a victim, travel is severely restricted and supplies are limited. Shops and schools are closed, medical facilities are crowded, and devoted almost entirely to coping with Ebola victims so other health issues are being overlooked. People are not allowed to give their relatives a dignified burial, as the virus remains active for a long period after death; consequently, the dead are forcibly removed by the authorities, piled into vans and taken away to be buried anonymously in mass graves. Thankfully, many do manage to survive the disease, but to date, a cure or vaccine is still not available for the uninfected and they continue to live in fear.
While it makes good sense to prevent the spread of such a virulent illness to other countries where it might potentially infect millions of people, it shields the majority of the world from the true horrors currently being faced by people living in the Ebola-ridden zones. Many of the affected areas were poverty-stricken with communities already struggling to survive. More international aid is required to help in the mass treatment of victims, though with doctors and aid workers as vulnerable to infection as the rest of the population, it is increasingly difficult to find healthy staff and volunteers who are willing to put themselves into an increasingly risky situation.
One wonders how the focus and healthcare facilities might be improved if Ebola did make the leap across into the Western world.
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