Saturday 3 December 2016

Ebola - no cure, no vaccine and the real danger of panic

Dom Hunt

Published 31/07/2014 | 02:30

Medical staff working with Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) prepare to bring food to patients kept in an isolation area at the MSF Ebola treatment centre in Kailahun. Reuters
Medical staff working with Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) prepare to bring food to patients kept in an isolation area at the MSF Ebola treatment centre in Kailahun. Reuters

Half a year into the Ebola epidemic, the virus is now in three capital cities and is spreading. More than 650 people across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have now died from Ebola. Health professionals including doctors and nurses have also died of the disease. Two American health workers have been infected in Liberia. Lagos, Africa's largest city (21 million people), is on high alert after a Liberian man died in the airport on arrival last week.

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The situation is escalating and is now officially the largest outbreak ever recorded of the disease. There is no known cure for Ebola, nor is there a vaccine.

I recently travelled to Sierra Leone and could see there are a range of factors that are hindering efforts to stop the spread of the disease. Traditional behaviour around washing dead bodies is still ongoing despite the bodies being highly contagious. The infectious nature of the virus means it can - especially with people such as agricultural workers with minor skin cuts - sometimes be transmitted from person to person with a simple handshake. Those most at risk, however, remain medical workers in the treatment clinics. Initial symptoms of Ebola are non-specific and in many ways resemble malaria. This means that everyone with these symptoms should be treated as a potential case of Ebola - no small task in a country with the fifth-highest prevalence of malaria in the world.

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