Answers to the 5 Ws and 1 H About Ebola
You may have heard of the 5 Ws of journalism — the who, what, when, where, and why of the story. The H of how usually gets thrown in there, too. Here are answers to these questions about Ebola.
What Ebola is
Ebola is a virus that results in a hemorrhagic fever (which is called Ebola). People can give it to one another, but it isn’t very easy to contract. However, if someone does get it, it can be very serious. If not treated, Ebola causes flulike symptoms at first, then more serious organ failure, which can result in death.
Ebola is in the news right now because of a large outbreak in West Africa that has spread slightly onto other continents, including North America.
Who Ebola affects the most
Currently, Ebola affects West Africans in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia — and the healthcare workers taking care of them — the most. These folks are right in the line of Ebola fire every day. They get no break. No reprieve. They’re watching their friends and family members die as they struggle to survive.
Westerners in West Africa who hold different beliefs and cultural traditions than the residents are coordinating and driving a good deal of the humanitarian efforts. It can make a tragic situation even tenser, because aid workers have to be careful not to ostracize community members, but rather care for and work with them.
Many West Africans don’t even believe that Ebola is caused by a virus, but rather a curse or black magic. As a result, when they see doctors in full body protection trying to take them or their loved ones away, they’re upset.
Adding to the distress is knowing that a great number of people who go into the treatment centers don’t make it out alive, leading to a conclusion that the treatment centers are killing patients.
Where Ebola makes its mark
Although a few cases have sprung up outside of West Africa, by far, the only geographic area of major concern for Ebola right now is in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, and their immediate neighbors.
But the bigger takeaway here is the importance of a substantial healthcare system in each country, and the value of a worldwide network and plan for responding to health emergencies.
This outbreak is happening specifically in these countries because of a lack of sufficient infrastructure to provide the response and education needed to stop it (such as doctors, nurses, and hospitals for treatment; mass media for public health messages; and highways and developed transportation to get help fast).
None of the other countries in which Ebola has surfaced has suffered so deeply because they have the resources to combat it.
This time, Ebola has struck West Africa, but many other places could be next. So the point is that voters need to pressure their representatives and lawmakers to make sure funding and resources stay in place (or get added where needed) in the United States and Canada — or wherever you call home — to provide for the proper establishment and upkeep of vital infrastructure.
When Ebola became a concern
Since Ebola was first discovered in 1976, it has had 35 outbreaks. All of them have been small — mostly less than 50 deaths, and none more than 300. Starting in December of 2013, Guinea experienced an outbreak of an unknown virus that took 50 lives. By March of 2014, Guinea figured out that it was Ebola, and Liberia and Sierra Leone each reported a few cases as well.
Doctors Without Borders recognized the signs of a widespread epidemic in the making and sounded the alarm in April. The organization was concerned that cases were being diagnosed in three different countries at the same time. (That’s how the organization knew that there was a big problem.) The current case count for this outbreak is closing in on 14,500 at time of publication.
Why Ebola is a global concern
In West Africa, this outbreak is leaving thousands of families destroyed. Children have become orphans, and survivors are being cast out for fear that they will still spread the disease or are somehow cursed.
The agriculture, trade, and tourism industries in these areas have totally disintegrated, and the situation is especially dire in the hot zone countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone — and even in the countries that border them, such as Ivory Coast and Mali. And the reach of this crisis is being felt around the world.
Nobody wants to go to these countries, and people in these countries are finding it difficult to get out, due to travel and border restrictions.
The longer that fear perpetuates and drives policies and protocols that prohibit vital industry, the deeper the world will feel the impact of this virus. When countries aren’t generating revenue, they aren’t spending it. And when they aren’t growing crops, they aren’t exporting them, let alone eating any crops. Food insecurity is a real threat as supply and demand drives prices for produce up 150 percent in some areas.
All three countries had been on the economic upswing, but each of them now stands to lose between 2 and 9 percent of their respective GDPs.
Recent estimates by the CDC say case numbers could hit 1 million, and the World Bank estimates that this could cost $32 billion over the next two years if Ebola keeps spreading across West African borders.
How Ebola is transmitted
Ebola is transmitted only through direct contact with infected body fluids, which means that the fluid has to touch your mucus membrane or non-intact skin. And that’s it. That’s the only way you can contract it. So in other words, you can’t:
Transmit the virus unless you have symptoms
Catch Ebola just by being in the same room as a patient with Ebola (because the virus isn’t airborne)
Ebola actually is quite difficult to contract when you compare it to something like the flu. So then why has Ebola spread like wildfire in West Africa?
Well, the rate at which the virus has spread during this outbreak is unprecedented, so it was extremely unexpected and caught a lot of the world health leaders off guard. Ebola was spreading in epidemic proportions before anyone could get ahead of it. Here are a couple of reasons why:
Ebola hit large, highly populated urban areas versus the remote, far-flung villages it has historically appeared in.
West African funeral rituals involve a lot of touching and washing of the body. Because a lot of fluids are involved when someone dies of Ebola, multiple people were (still are) coming into contact with infected fluids regularly.
The borders are very porous in this part of West Africa, so it’s typical for folks to come from miles around and from other countries to attend funerals, and then go back to their country and spread the virus unknowingly.