Ebola as an Epidemiology Student


That squiggly blue line in a sea of red…the little virus that has the world in uproar…you’ve heard about it…the mysterious and deadly Ebola virus!

about-ebola(picture from CDC)

This year’s Ebola epidemic has been one of the deadliest and largest in history, and as a first year Epidemiology student, there is almost nothing else that we talk about with such fervor and intrigue. On the other hand, because I’m in public health, the questions that I have received directly from family and friends, or indirectly from wild, hysterical posts on social media, have made me think seriously about the effect the media has on all of us….

So today I present you with the facts about Ebola. There is absolutely no reason for chaos, panic, fear and/or hostility for people dying of Ebola in America. We have the resources to deal with the virus – it is West Africa where the epidemic is raging that needs the help and support of the world.

First of all – how does one contract Ebola? There are numerous crazy people posting all sorts of theories on the Internet. These are the facts:

  • Ebola is spread through direct contact. This means you must be touching an infected person’s bodily secretions (blood, sweat, mucus, vomit, feces, semen, breast milk, saliva) to actively contract it.
    • Given the cases that have happened in America so far – this make sense. They are healthcare workers directly involved with Ebola treatments
    • Additionally, contact in this way can happen even after a patient with Ebola has passed away…which is how a lot of the virus has been spreading in West Africa. Improper funeral preparations and burial practices without knowledge of this fact have contributed to a lot of transmission
  • Ebola can also be contracted from contaminated medical equipment like needles and syringes…which again goes back to the previous point
  • Finally, Ebola can be transmitted through infected apes/primates…the lowest risk for us in America, but a very real and often unknown fact in much of West Africa.

EbolaOutbreaks_0729 (Huffington Post)               Stopping the Ebola Outbreak (CDC)
Some infographics that summarize information nicely.

Given all of this information, why is the Western world in uproar over this disease? It seems many of us have forgotten the concept of humanity – angry talks of quarantine and travel bans (these are among questions I’ve fielded) are not what is needed in the fight against this virus. What is needed is calm, rational reporting, and aid to West Africa. People in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone are just that – people. Helping them should be our priority.

My awesome advisor at school, Dr. Eden Wells, has been giving a lot of talks about Ebola in conjunction with some of the other professors! Check them out for more reasons on why we all need to calm down about Ebola and recognize it for what it is and stop it in its tracks in West Africa.

So what can we do? We can help! Doctors Without Borders is struggling to help everyone who needs help. Consider donating to them if you can…let’s stop the fear mongering and start helping. I have personally been to Liberia and it saddens to me to hear the stories. A barely-there infrastructure is crumbling even more, doctors and healthcare workers are dying by the dozens. Literally half the infected healthcare workers in Liberia have died from the disease. The modeling estimates are staggering and it is our global responsibility to help.

MSB13567 Aid worker from DWB helping a child suspected to have Ebola (from John Moore/Getty Images)

Super long post – but super necessary. Hopefully this answers any concerns that you have about the virus and what it’s actually doing in the world. As always, if you have any questions, I am happy to answer them!

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