The recent spread of Ebola this year has been a great opportunity to examine both the biology of the virus and epidemiology of infection. In my classes, this topic has come up regularly with each news event. As of this time, it’s still just a curiosity to watch from afar and see how epidemics get started, balloon into larger problems, interact with the global transportation system, spread into pandemics, provide insight into how different political and health organizations deal with the problem.
Typically Ebola has been a self-limiting infection. Because of the high death rate and remote locations outbreaks have occurred in, few people have been able to get infected and make it out ‘to civilization’ alive. Those who have presumably were no longer carrying the virus when they did come into contact with the wider world. I imagine these outbreaks sort of like forest fires erupting on tropical islands: The fire ignites, burns the trees on the island and then dies away when there is no more fuel to consume.
This year, the fire has burned more brightly than ever before, scattering embers into the wind. Travelers and healthcare workers alike have been exposed and left the site of the epidemics with the virus within them. Unfortunately, these individuals have helped to spread Ebola Virus far from Africa. Often these people arrive in foreign countries as patients looking for superior healthcare, and in large part they have received treatment without spreading the virus to others.
The US has recently seen its first case of Ebola arriving in the country ‘unbidden’ – meaning it was not someone who was brought to the US for treatment, but rather was someone who arrived in the US during the incubation time of the disease. Shortly after, the first documented case of Ebola transmission in the US occurred. It’s possible that you’re hitting the panic button now – or you’re waiting to see how things will develop as a test of the health protocols for dealing with this sort of thing. Or, perhaps you’re a singer and you get to mouth off in total ignorance .
In the meantime, take a look at this website. It has some excellent, well organized descriptions of the virus, its transmission, and the disease it causes.
How did they get Madagascar?