The current outbreak of Ebola is the largest in history. It has affected at least 1,300 people in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and 700 patients have died. According to the director of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, the Ebola outbreak "is moving faster than our efforts to control it.”
Ebola is a terribly fearsome virus, currently without a cure. It was first discovered in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo in a village near the Ebola River. People in Africa contract the virus from animals such as fruit bats, chimpanzees, monkeys or forest antelopes. It spreads among humans through fluids such as blood, semen, and other bodily fluids. Symptoms of Ebola may not appear for up to 21 days, allowing those infected to travel or come into contact with others without knowing they are carrying the virus. But when the symptoms appear, they include the following: fever, vomiting, diarrhea, massive internal and external bleeding, and multiple organ failure.
Among those infected with the virus are two humanitarian aid workers from the United States, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol. They contracted the virus in Liberia while serving on mission trips to help stem the tide of the current outbreak. After contracting the virus, it was decided that both Americans would be brought back to the United States and receive treatment at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Kent Brantly arrive Saturday August 2nd, making him the first person with Ebola ever to be brought into the United States. Nancy Writebol arrives the week of August 4th.
Bringing these patients into our community has its challenges. Many feel it is irresponsible for them to be brought into our community, with the potential for Ebola to then spread here in the United States. Others argue that we have a humanitarian obligation to help these patients as much as we can and the fear of Ebola spreading shouldn’t outweigh our compassion. Treating these patients in Africa, rather than bringing them to the United States, is an option though it is not necessarily a solution to this outbreak. After all, we live in such a small world, with the ability to travel easily, that whatever happens in Africa may ultimately affect us all.
But there is also a dark side to these incurable viruses, which have been used for centuries in warfare. Ebola in the wrong hands could be a deadly biological weapon, especially if it is made to be airborne. That is not to say that we brought these infected patients to the United States in order to weaponize this virus, but it will certainly give us more opportunities to research and develop an antidote.
With the means and resources, we in America have the opportunity to help assist in this humanitarian crisis, to help these American patients and to gain more knowledge in the hopes of finding a cure for all humanity.
Facts: Ebola virus disease (World Health Oranization)
5 things to know about Ebola outbreak in W. Africa
Ebola patient walks into Atlanta hospital; wife sees him through glass (CNN)
Ebola moving faster than control efforts, WHO warns (CBS News)
Anticipating the Next Pandemic (NYTimes)
Ebola outbreak could have 'catastrophic' consequences
Q&A: Ebola in Africa Not Yet a National Security Issue (The Daily Signal)