Ebola — Fact vs Fiction
By Shlomo Maital
As a would-be journalist, I’ve followed closely how the media report on the Ebola virus epidemic in Africa. America’s NPR (National Public Radio) is excellent – but even NPR has spread hysteria and has reported very badly on the issue. There is something about this deadly little virus that kills half the people it afflicts, that frightens people. And the media play into these fears, by amplifying them. Shame on them.
The Economist rides to the rescue. As always it brings us the truth, with the facts well explained. In the Oct. 18 issue, here is what The Economist explains:
- The number of infections (in West Africa – mainly Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia) is doubling every 2-4 weeks. Meanwhile, though, Senegal and Nigeria have been declared ebola free. So it is possible to stamp it out.
- If something doubles every, say, 3 weeks, then in 10 doublings (30 weeks, or about half a year), it is 1,024 times greater. So if 10,000 people have Ebola virus today in West Africa, 10 million will have it in half a year. This is why it is so urgent to come to the rescue of these three countries.
- If the West does wake up and send help, the goal is simple: Get the infectious rate down, in West Africa, from 1.5 to 2.2 persons per infected person (i.e. every person who has Ebola infects 1.5 to 2.2 other persons, today), to less than 1. If this ratio, known as Ro, is less than one, then the power of compounding works to our favor. Soon, Ebola disappears. You can only get the Ro number down by having more hospitals, more trained health workers, faster medical care, etc. Get people infected to quarantine quickly. This is done instantly in the West, but West Africa does not have the means.
- This is not a Western problem YET. The West has a moral obligation to help West Africa, whose economies have been devastated. But it WILL be a Western problem, if a half year goes by and the Ro remains at around 2. Then the Ebola will simply not be capable of being stamped out.
- Why is Ebola so fatal and so dangerous? Because it is fiendishly clever, even though of course it does not have a brain. Ebola virus invades a cell, and makes it produce more viruses instead of the cell’s own DNA. Ebola has sugars on the outside coating of the virus, making it tough for the body’s immune system to attack it (antibodies stick to the glycoprotein instead of to the virus). The immune cells that the virus attacks race to the spleen, liver and lymph nodes and thus carry the infection there. Soon, the body over-reacts, and blood vessel walls become leaky, organs fail and the body goes into shock. President Obama has sent 3,000 U.S. soldiers to help Liberia. Much more is needed. Europe, of course, is sound asleep. And a lot of the money promised to West Africa remains just that – a promise. Unless the rich countries wake up, they will find themselves dealing with a problem that is one hundred times harder to solve.
- All this – from a tiny virus! How did it get so smart? It evolved – nature’s accidents created viruses that survive to procreate.