A mob descended on an Ebola clinic in Liberia earlier today. They were armed, and they broke into the clinic with clubs. In the chaos, many bed sheets and mattresses were stolen. Unfortunately, some of these mattresses were being used by individuals who have been infected by Ebola (or were suspected to have been in contact with the virus). The patients were forced to flee into the city to escape the mob. At least 17 of the 29 patients are still missing and are believed to be somewhere in the city.
In an impoverished area that does not have access to necessary sanitary conditions, this is not a good thing.
The fact that the patients are missing in the populace is worrying enough; however, Ebola is spread through bodily fluids (like blood, sweat, and vomit), and the fact that sheets, mattresses, and similar items were stolen makes the situation extremely dire. Richard Kieh, a local resident, asserts that some of the looted items were visibly stained with blood, vomit, and excrement.
Notably, the West Point neighborhood is home to an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 individuals, and sanitary conditions are highly questionable. As a result, Liberian officials now fear that Ebola will spread throughout the capital’s largest slum. Recent figures released by the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that Liberia has recorded more Ebola deaths – 413 – than any of the other affected countries. This is largely because the area lacks access to necessary medical supplies, which makes it difficult to ensure that patients stay hydrated and that medical personnel do not contract Ebola.
This attack comes only one day after a crowd of several hundred local residents prevented a burial team and their police escort from collecting the bodies of suspected Ebola victims. Many individuals seem to believe that Ebola is a government conspiracy, one that was concocted to eradicate the slums and drive people out, or keep them hidden away under strict quarantine. Such believers assert that the infected are actually only suffering from malaria. Reports state that several individuals told infected patients at the clinic that they do not really have Ebola, that the quarantine is unfair, and that they should return home.
Jemimah Kargbo, a health care worker at a clinic next door, states “They said [the mob], ‘The president says you have Ebola, but you don’t have Ebola, you have malaria. Get up and go out!’”
The incident creates a new challenge for Liberian health officials who were already struggling to contain the outbreak.
The death toll and infection rate makes 2014 the worst outbreak on record. 1,145 people in four countries across West Africa have died. At least 2,127 cases have been reported in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, according to the WHO.
Ebola is a virus that has one of the highest death rates of any known disease. Of those who are infected, some ninety percent will not survive. However, although death rates reach 90% in many outbreaks, fatality has also been as low as 25% when patients have access to modern medicine (as was the case in Uganda in 2007). Currently, the rate in the latest outbreak has reached a fatality of nearly 60%.
The disease is characterized by flu like symptoms, excessive bleeding from bodily orifices, hemorrhaging, organ failure, and other nightmarish symptoms. Fortunately, because of quarantine procedures, Ebola has been mostly restricted to localized parts of Africa. However, the strict quarantine is believed to be part of the reason that some patients are still missing, as they desire to be free to be with their families.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a way to beat Ebola yet. However, In an article published in Nature, researchers that were working in Fort Detrick in Maryland announced that they may have found a potential cure. The scientists have discovered a molecule that can be used to stop the virus (and other viruses in the same family) in its tracks. This molecule is so effective because it looks a lot like the “A” that makes up DNA: adenosine. The molecule is called ” BCX4430,” and since it looks so much like adenosine, viruses like Ebola can accidentally use it as a building block when trying to grow inside our cells. Ultimately, this is fantastic news for us (not so fantastic for the virus) as the use of this molecule blocks the virus’ growth and reproduction (effectively stopping the virus).
However, until this treatment is developed, there is a significant risk of infection for anyone who comes into contact with the bodily fluids of an infected individual. Ultimately, fear and distrust are making it difficult for scientists to effectively quarantine the disease to protect local populations, and also making it difficult for medical professionals to give infected persons the hydration and other care that the Ebola patients so desperately need.
In these times of fear and mistrust, it is important to remember that the disease is spread through bodily fluids, so it is possible to protect one’s self and keep safe. And due to quarantine, it is unlikely that the disease will spread to other continents. Advanced medical care also significantly reduced the death rate, as do proper sanitary conditions.