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Ebola Virus

Why are we so concerned about a relatively insignificant viral infection such as Ebola? I guess the main concern comes from our American newspapers. They seem to thrive only on the fear they can pass on through the press. It seems as if much of the hysteria surrounding Ebola at this point in time is very much similar to the hysteria we saw surrounding HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) infections and AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).

When that epidemic first began in the United States initially HIV carriers were thought to be highly contagious. As time has gone on we have found HIV to be relatively benign as a contagion. HIV is certainly not benign when you consider the end result of this disease without treatment. The Ebola virus is part of a group of hemorrhagic viral fevers that we have known about since the mid 70s.

The recent outbreaks in the past year have brought renewed interest to this spectrum of illnesses. The World Health Organization is attempting to monitor incipient illnesses that have the potential to become pandemic. One of the greatest differences between the HIV epidemic and the present Ebola epidemic is the rapidity with which each illness reaches the final stages of the disease.

HIV proved to be a very challenging illness because many of the people carrying it were able to function as carriers for up to 10 years without showing symptoms of the illness. During this time the carriers were contagious and often did not know they were carrying an illness.

The main method of HIV spread was through the population of homosexual males and it proved to be a difficult illness for an HIV positive female to pass on to her husband even through unprotected sex. However the reverse was not true. An infected male could much more easily pass this infection on to a female.

One plus to humanity for a disease like Ebola is the fact that it has a relatively short incubation period and kills rather rapidly. This makes the spread of this illness more difficult in a continent such as Africa where there may be significant walking distances between villages and this in itself helps contain the spread.

On the other hand, in urban areas with the rapid mobilization of humanity, the spread of Ebola from one side of the world to another by an asymptomatic individual can happen within hours.

As with all health issues, education again becomes key in preventing the spread of these semi-preventable pandemics. Education becomes very problematic in these societies where illiteracy is the norm.

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