Ebola Starting A New Year

February 5, 2015

Optimism for the epidemic in west Africa is declining this week as ebola gets a sudden surge in identified cases.

Why the sudden surge after weeks of decline? It’s the same problems that healthcare workers have been fighting against this whole time: many are still clinging to traditional burial practices, which involve touching the body to say goodbye—transmitting ebola. When healthcare workers arrive to test for ebola and decontaminate homes, there’s a negative reaction in villages to the space age suits that protect workers (understandably, if you’re typical world involves very little plastic!).

And now there’s a crunch to find a way to identify patients and contain the outbreak within the next few months—or the spring rainy season will help isolate villages and give ebola a chance to build up a new foothold.

Those who have survived ebola aren’t out of the woods, either. Researchers are being pressed to identify what’s tentatively being called Ebola Syndrome. The after-effects of the organ damage ebola causes seems to most obviously impact eyes, causing blindness in some survivors. If it’s temporary or treatable remains to be seen.

Although it all seems far away at this point, squashing ebola needs to be a world priority, both as a lesson in fighting pandemics, and to prevent ebola from evolving and becoming worse. But honestly, there are a lot of problems that aren’t even being addressed yet that will help ebola to persist.

Ebola has been traced to bats, and possibly infected bush meat. Unfortunately, it’s been economically devastating for west Africa (and Ebola Syndrome will be another layer of devastation, as survivors struggle to work and need treatment and services), so simply warning people away from these risks isn’t going to be very effective.

So while ebola is low on the world radar for now, there’s a good chance there will be a surge in the summer. Hopefully we will still be screening immigrants fleeing the region.

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