Nearly every “viral outbreak” film starts off with a quarantine. A quarantine is established to separate those who are infected (or potentially infected) from people who have not yet been infected by the virus. Often times, there is a small percentage of people who are not yet infected, but are nonetheless quarantined along with the rest, effectively sentencing them to death (unless a cure is found in time). This is the exact scenario unfolding in Liberia.
While the western world is busy throwing ice water on their heads, there is a serious and imminent crises happening in a region with extremely limited resources. Nearly 50% of the population of Liberia has trouble accessing clean drinking water, and this is before the ebola outbreak.
What is Ebola?
Ebola is a rare virus which damages the immune system and organs as it spreads through the body. The virus causes the levels of blood-clotting cells to drop, resulting in severe, uncontrollable bleeding both inside and outside the body.
The death rate of those who are infected with the Ebola virus is 90% (if treated the death rate drops to 50%), with the current death toll standing at approximately 1350. Close to 600 individuals have died in Liberia alone. The virus is presently concentrated in Central and West Africa.
There is no cure for Ebola because the virus mutates at a rapid rate and is constantly changing. The latest attempt to find a cure for the disease comes from scientists at Northeastern University who are experimenting with nanotechnology.
Thomas Webster, Professor and Chairman of bioengineering and chemical engineering at Northeastern, is working to develop nanoparticles designed to stop the ebola virus from mutating and kill it.
“Since viruses, like Ebola, are nanostructures, many of us believe the only way to treat them is by using other nanomaterials,” Webster said. “In nanotechnology, we turned our attention to developing nanoparticles that could be attached chemically to the viruses and stop them from spreading.”
International attention to this virus is extremely necessary. According to Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, “This is the largest, most severe, most complex outbreak in the nearly four-decade history of the disease. I am declaring the current outbreak of the Ebola virus disease a public health emergency of international concern. Countries affected to date simply don’t have the capacity to manage an outbreak on this scale on their own.”
Webster’s approach isn’t the only attempt to find a cure. There is currently an experimental drug known as ZMapp, which is a combination of three different monoclonal antibodies that bind to the protein of the Ebola virus. It was given to three doctors in Liberia, and two US aid workers, who have all either improved dramatically or have had a complete recovery from the disease.
Even though ZMapp is untested on humans, the WHO has declared untested drugs can be administered due to the severity and scale of the outbreak.
What can you do?
If the Ebola outbreak is something of concern to you, then the best thing to do is donate. I’ve listed a few great organizations you can give to (no ice bucket required ;-))
Note: Make sure you are giving because you want to, not because you feel socially pressured to do so.