Waging War on Ebola

By Aditya Ramachandran, Staff Writer ||

Recently, in a riveting New York Times editorial, Michael Osterholm, of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, wrote, “If certain mutations occurred, it would mean that just breathing would put one at risk of contracting Ebola.” Sure enough, Ebola, the disease singularly responsible for the gruesome deaths of thousands and the ruinous decline of a region hitherto poised for economic ascension, has suddenly given the Global North reason to actually care.

History’s worst outbreak of the rare, hemorrhagic fever officially began in March, when the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that 86 cases had been reported across Guinea. Since then, the virus has ravaged the western swathes of the African continent, affecting over 5,000 people and ending over 2,000 lives. The roots of the consternation regarding the virus lie in the known effects of Ebola: the liquefaction of the organs, causing the patient to succumb to a haze of fever, internal and external bleeding, and gradually, a painful and messy death.

Victims of the plague have included doctors, healthcare workers, and even foreign nationals who came into contact with the body fluids of an infected individual — supposedly the only way to contract the virus. That is, until Osterholm’s research came to light.

Osterholm’s article is centered on a 2012 study, in which pigs, infected with Ebola, spread the disease to monkeys housed in separate areas of the laboratory. This study “proved that Ebola Zaire, the same virus that is causing the West Africa outbreak, could be transmitted by the respiratory route.”

Unnerving as this phenomenon is, all those reading this piece can be reassured. The likelihood of Ebola mutating into an airborne virus remains but a possibility, so unlikely that it is effectively science fiction. Numerous immunologists, from the winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom Anthony Fauci, to Vanderbilt’s William Schaffner, have dismissed it as a remote and an abstract threat — and with good reason. Not once in the century that humans have been engaged in studying immunology has a virus mutated from being transmitted via contact to being transmitted via
aerosol.

That being said, for one brief, fleeting moment, before scientists and reason stepped in with their reassuring postulations dismissing Ebola as condemned to blight only those far away from us, please recall how you must have felt. Problems transcend borders, and we are all
neighbors.

Yes, the Obama administration’s 750 million dollar military intervention in West Africa, however untimely, is worthy of applause.

But equally powerful interventions are not beyond the ability of this electorate to affect. In civilized nations, external affairs should not be left to the political elite to conjure in isolation.

Consequentially, in a world supposed to be ever more interdependent and intertwined, in a world where it is imperative for us to act as a global civilization, let us do so on the basis of our most important universal sentiment: empathy.

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