Via Slate, Dr. Tara C. Smith breaks the news: Ebola Was Already Here. Click through for the full article and links. Excerpt:
Ebola is a terrible disease. It kills many of the people that it infects. It can spread fairly rapidly when precautions are not carefully adhered to: when cultural practices such as ritual washing of bodies are continued despite warnings, or when needles are reused because of a lack of medical supplies, or when gloves and other protective gear are not available, or when patients are sharing beds because they are brought to hospitals lacking even such basics as enough beds or clean bedding for patients.
But if all you know of Ebola is from The Hot Zone or Outbreak, well, that’s not really what Ebola looks like.
I interviewed colleagues from Doctors without Borders a few years back on their experiences with an Ebola outbreak, and they noted:
As for the disease, it is not as bloody and dramatic as in the movies or books. The patients mostly look sick and weak. If there is blood, it is not a lot, usually in the vomit or diarrhea, occasionally from the gums or nose. The transmission is rather ordinary, just contact with infected body fluids. It does not occur because of mere proximity or via an airborne route (as in Outbreak if I recall correctly).
The outbreak control organizations in the movies have no problem implementing their solutions once these have been found. In reality, we know what needs to be done, the problem is getting it to happen. This is why community relations are such an issue, where they are not such a problem in the movies.
So, sure, be concerned. But be rational as well. Yes, we know all too well that our public health agencies can fuck up. I’m not saying there is zero chance of something going wrong. But it is low.
As an infectious disease specialist (and one with an extreme interest in Ebola), I’m way more concerned about influenza or measles many other “ordinary” viruses than I am about Ebola. Ebola is exotic and its symptoms can be terrifying, but also much easier to contain by people who know their stuff.