Even as President Obama prepares to send troops into West Africa, the consensus is that America’s response to the Ebola epidemic is late. In the last month, the number of certified Ebola cases in Africa has doubled. According to some computer models, the spread of the pandemic could easily claim millions of lives if a strategy for containment isn’t put into place. With America’s attention focused on an (admittedly dangerous) army of terrorists in the Middle East, is it possible that the real threat is coming in the form of a virus?
This isn’t the first Ebola outbreak we’ve seen. As far back as 1976, the countries of West Africa have battled the disease. Only on a couple of occasions has the virus been seen beyond Africa’s shores. Both times, the culprit was one particular mutation of the disease – RESTV – and the outbreak was quickly managed.
This time, things are different.
The number of deaths from the current outbreak have exceeded those in all the other outbreaks combined. Early hopes that this would simply shrivel up and die out like the other outbreaks are no longer credible. Indeed, the opposite has happened; the spread of disease grows worse with every passing week. Even while taking all the appropriate health precautions, more than 200 health workers have contracted the disease. This only proves that this particular strain is more virulent than we’ve seen thus far. Even promising treatments are still in the experimental stages and not foolproof.
Health workers falling victim to Ebola creates another problem. The World Health Organization estimates that it takes approximately 200 health workers to treat 80 patients. With workers coming down with the virus in high profile scenarios, however, it only serves to discourage others from joining the fight. The situation is growing dire, and that’s not just the word from people exploiting the outbreak for profit. That comes from as far up as the head of the CDC, who opined that the spread was “going to get worse in the very near future.”
According to scientists, we can expect the Ebola epidemic to last for at least another year, if not longer. If the most pessimistic computer models are right, we could see the rate of infection grow at a stunning rate of 20,000 a month until then. While the WHO is still siding with much more conservative numbers – a total infected population of 20,000 in nine months – many scientists insist those estimates are low.
Even sources that work tirelessly to dispel the worst of the fear-driven myths propagated by the likes of the New York Times are forced to acknowledge that we don’t know what sets this outbreak apart. Scientific American rebuked the idea of the disease going airborne, but they had to admit that there was, as yet, no explanation for why the disease was spreading much faster than in previous years.
That’s the real problem: we don’t know what we’re up against. Until we’re sure, the prospect of a worst case scenario is every bit as likely as not.