Story by Jesse Wright
The African country of Guinea is experiencing an outbreak of one of the deadliest viruses known on Earth.
According to Rueters, the country faces an Ebola epidemic on an unprecedented scale and is battling to contain confirmed cases now scattered across several locations.
The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, Doctors Without Borders, has descended on the country to help contain the virus which has also spread to Guinea’s neighboring countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The World Health Organization says the Ebola virus first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.
The latter was in a village situated near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name. It has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent among those who are infected and was introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals.
In Africa, infection has been documented through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.
Ebola spreads in the community through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids. The continent of Africa is also especially vulnerable to outbreaks because of the lack of medical care available to people in countries like Guinea.
Figures released by Guinea’s health ministry showed there had been 78 deaths from 122 cases of suspected Ebola since January.
Of these, there were 22 laboratory-confirmed cases of Ebola. Medecins Sans Frontieres is calling the outbreak “unprecedented” and officials in Guinea forbade the entry of corpses for burial from across the country’s northern border with Guinea, Chief Medical Officer Brima Kargbo told Reuters.
Additionally, Guinea’s neighboring country, Senegal, has closed its borders to prevent the spread of the virus.
With news like this coming from Africa, it seems reasonable to ask why the mainstream media is not covering the story more.
Many people in Des Moines and at Drake University have not heard about the outbreak and some are even unfamiliar with Ebola at all.
Drake junior writing and history double major Amanda Dick said she thinks the lack of knowledge revolves around Americans narrow interest in world affairs.
“If there was an outbreak of Ebola in Europe, it would be all over the TV news,” Dick said. “Americans tend to be self-centered with regards to issues that negatively affect Africa. We also do not seem to be concerned with health issues as much as other parts of the world because we have a better system than those in place in the developing world.”
“We do not seem to have a lot of business relationships with the continent of Africa,” said neuroscience and history double major Eric Stacy. “The only concern we would have would be if it were to spread to a Western country or a country in Asia like China where we have a vested interest in seeing those countries not descend into chaos. It is really sad.”
Christina Smith, a Des Moines resident who works as a nurse, has another opinion as to why there has not been more coverage of this story.
“I think it has not received that much coverage because it has been around for so long and has always been quickly contained in the past,” Smith said. “Ebola is actually a very fragile virus from an evolutionary standpoint. A virus needs a host to live, so the fact that Ebola kills those it infects so quick means it will not have a much time to pass itself along to others. This combined with the fact that the virus is not airborne, makes it unlikely that it will spread around the world unless it mutates into another strand.”
Still, one cannot help but have some fear.
Historically, diseases have had a devastating impact on human populations. The Black Death killed one-third of the population in Europe during the Middle Ages, and the global flu pandemic of 1918 may have taken the lives of 50 million.
Though medicine and hygiene practices have come a long way since that time, there is always a possibility that a deadly, new strain of a deadly disease could show up and produce similar, if not worse, results.