I will admit to being a germaphobe. When I hear any news of avian flu or malaria spreading anywhere in the world, my first instinct is to sprint to the bathroom and wash my hands.
You can imagine my horror when I learned that patients with Ebola were brought to the United States. But this time I decided to get all my facts straight before rushing to CVS to stock up on hand soap.
Ebola is a highly infectious virus that causes severe internal bleeding and is often fatal (yeah, I’m almost out the door). Humans contract Ebola through contact with the bodily fluids of infected animals or people, such as blood, sweat and feces. No Ebola vaccine has been discovered yet, and although an experimental drug ZMapp exists, researchers are still testing its efficacy.
The largest Ebola outbreaks abroad have taken place in Guinea, Sierra Leon and Liberia. The two Americans who recently contracted Ebola, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, served as missionaries in Liberia and volunteered at an Ebola clinic.
As soon as the American government learned about their diagnoses, the CDC and American Defense Department sent a specially designed containment jet to transport them to Emory University Hospital in Georgia. Both Americans were given the experimental drug ZMapp and recovered quickly. While it is extremely fortunate that the US has the resources to save these patients from such a deadly virus, ours is still one of the only countries that has such luxuries. Until these two Americans contracted Ebola, the spread of this fatal disease was not at the forefront of my mind. Outbreaks of viruses like Ebola are harsh realities for many African communities, and our ignorance of these humanitarian crises is shameful. Although disease doesn’t come with the “loud” death toll that war seems to carry, it still silently kills thousands abroad every day.
It’s unfortunate that until something escapes from Pandora’s Box and enters our country, most of us go on with no idea that it exists somewhere else in the world. Of course, after an event like this, it is highly unlikely that Americans are lining up at airports to volunteer in Ebola clinics.
However, we can all try to limit the curtain of American isolationism by supporting government funding for vaccine and drug research and development. Although it does not currently affect American citizens, the possibility exists that Ebola could cross the ocean to our continent.
As a nation with the money and minds to discover new drug capabilities, it only seems right that the United States allot resources to this cause.
At the very least, we should all take some time to appreciate that we do not wrestle daily with the burden of disease like people in developing countries must.
Because today’s world is more interconnected than it has ever been before, we should be aware of what occurs abroad, sympathetic to those in need and extremely grateful that most of us do not face the same daily struggles.
Nayna Shah is a sophomore majoring in biology.