Epidemic | Reid Wilson

Summary of: Epidemic: Ebola and the Global Scramble to Prevent the Next Killer Outbreak
By: Reid Wilson


Epidemic: Ebola and the Global Scramble to Prevent the Next Killer Outbreak by Reid Wilson takes a hard look at the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa and the unique challenges faced in restraining its spread. The book reveals the vulnerabilities and cultural quirks that accelerated the contagion as it delves into the herculean efforts by various nations and aid organizations. You will gain important insights into the extraordinary conditions under which healthcare workers and medical researchers operated while the world scrambled to prevent a global pandemic.

Ebola: The Deadly Virus

Ebola virus, discovered in 1976 near the Congo River in Africa, is one of the deadliest germs to have ever been seen. It can kill up to 90% of people it infects, causing high fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and discharges from eyes and nose. This virus can spread easily through the tiniest of entry points, including small scrapes on skin, and it was always confined to remote parts of African countries. In these places, victims would die too quickly, and outbreaks would fizzle out without spreading the disease to new areas. Despite warnings sparked by the bestseller The Hot Zone and Outbreak movie, immunologists remained confident that Ebola would stay a rural scourge rather than an urban blight. However, the fear was always there – what if the virus arrived in a large city?

The Deadly Ebola Outbreak

In 2014, an Ebola outbreak began in West Africa, and it quickly spread beyond the remote villages where previous outbreaks originated. The virus was transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, including those of deceased individuals, and cultural practices such as washing the bodies of the deceased facilitated the spread of the disease. Misinformation, distrust of medical workers, and a preference for traditional healing methods also contributed to the outbreak’s spread. The virus, a product of natural evolution, claimed the lives of thousands in West Africa and eventually spread globally, highlighting the urgent need for improved global health infrastructure.

Deadly Outbreaks in West Africa

In 2014, the Ebola virus spread to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, creating a deadly epidemic in West Africa. The region, which has a long history of slavery, colonialism, and civil war, lacks basic infrastructure, including healthcare facilities and medical personnel. Despite the rapid spread of the virus, governments in the three countries were hesitant to begin public health campaigns, fearing a drop in trade and tourism. While they had some initial success containing the virus, it quickly made its way into large cities with international airports. The lack of proper healthcare made it difficult to accurately track the virus, which led to a global pandemic possibility. The article highlights the importance of having proper healthcare infrastructure to deal with future outbreaks, as well as the need for faster international response to contain these kinds of infectious diseases.

Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

The book highlights the adverse, primitive conditions foreign doctors and aid workers encountered as they worked to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014.

In the summer of 2014, the Ebola epidemic ravaged West Africa, presenting a significant public health crisis. In response, foreign doctors and aid workers arrived to stem the tide. However, they encountered challenging working conditions, including sweltering heat and humidity that made it difficult to operate machines and perform tests. Blood tests for Ebola were also problematic, as results were often ambiguous, making it challenging to provide accurate diagnoses to patients. False negatives were potentially deadly, leading to infected individuals unknowingly passing on the disease to others, while false positives meant patients would be sent to an Ebola ward where their chances of contracting the disease were nearly inevitable.

Moreover, the Ebola virus proved to be incredibly deadly for health care workers who treated patients. The primitive health care infrastructure in West Africa, where hospitals were often tents or shacks, further compounded the issue. Medical facilities lacked basic necessities such as latex gloves, leading to the reuse of supplies. Donning plastic bread bags or other improvised materials became the norm for protection. The lack of air conditioning also caused a challenge, with doctors and nurses having to lift protective goggles to dry condensation inside, exposing themselves to the virus. These conditions eventually led to the deaths of doctors and nurses, including Sheik Umar Khan in Sierra Leone, who became a national hero for his treatment of Ebola patients.

The book reveals the significant challenges foreign doctors and aid workers faced during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. It highlights the need to prioritize public health infrastructure in countries with frequent outbreaks and provides insight into the complex nature of disease outbreaks and the need for global cooperation to mitigate them.

ZMapp: A Potentially Effective Ebola Treatment?

Despite having no official cure for Ebola, one possible treatment is through transfusions using the survivors’ blood which contain antibodies. ZMapp, an experimental drug that was effective in treating Ebola in chimpanzees, but untested in humans, raised international debate over whether it should be used to treat patients. Dr. Kent Brantly responded remarkably well to ZMapp within an hour, but Nancy Writebol showed signs of an allergic reaction to the drug. Unfortunately, a Spanish priest who received a full course of ZMapp, died. The head of the US Centers for Disease Control, Tom Frieden, claimed that two or three patients were too few to conclude ZMapp’s effectiveness.

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