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Ebola: Compassion and communication needed for West Africa

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While we watch, holding our breath and hoping to see a decrease, the number of deaths associated with the Ebola virus disease (EVD), also referred to as Ebola haemorrhagic fever (Ebola HF), has continued to grow. By the time reported, nearly 1,300 cases and more than 700 deaths confirmed in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea by the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of victims are probably already outdated.

Per the experts, the numbers have escalated because of cultures that are contrary to our own. There are long-standing ideologies and belief systems by many West Africans that seem to help the numbers climb. Some ideologies include the natural inclination of people to take care of their own, burial rites which leave people in close contact with their infected loved ones, initial shock and lack of understanding about the Ebola virus and how it spreads/how it can be contained, sporadic media isolation, and distrust of Western and similar ways.

Since there is a lack of trust – that lack of trust which seems to keep many from seeking help from strangers - compassion and patience towards Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are greatly needed. Like with most relationships, more time and meaningful dialog with the West African general public are needed. Given the size of the continent, population, and politics, reaching those most at-risk will be challenging.

What we know, because of our rich history in science, our experience with infectious diseases and with the help of technology and the media, is: Ebola is not a new phenomenon. As early as 1976, many American citizens became aware of its existence. We had privy to information about Ebola through the lens of fantasy (Outbreak; 1995 film) and fast forward to reality (more recent events).

The good news is we understand in 2014 that Ebola is not airborne. It’s spread through human-to-human transmission: close contact with blood, bodily fluids, organs and secretions (sweat, vomit and urine included). The symptoms may become apparent within the first 4-10 days and might include fever, chills, severe headaches, a dry hacking cough and weakness. Over time the signs may increase to include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, red eyes and rashes that are raised. The other good news is clear: taking early precaution can limit the spread of this tragic disease.

It’s refreshing to see that we (the U.S.), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the WHO and other members of our international community have stepped up their efforts to eliminate this as a world-wide threat.

Although Emory University Hospital in Atlanta was chosen as the place to receive and care for Dr. Kent Brantly (he arrived August 2, 2014) and eventually fellow aid Nancy Writebol (the hospital is located near the CDC and it’s 1 of only 4 special isolation units), Barnes-Jewish Hospital (St. Louis, MO), Mercy Hospital (Chesterfield and Washington, MO), and Saint Louis University Hospital (St. Louis, MO) could easily have provided care for the American Ebola patients. Each of these well-established places of care use rigorous infection-control measures.

While we sit holding our breath, waiting for the threat of Ebola to disappear on the home front and beyond, the world watches.

To see a snapshot of what St. Louis has to offer, here’s information on the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital Epicenter for Prevention of Healthcare Associated Infections, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/HAI/epiCenters/epicenter_Washington.html.

To see a list of St. Louis Community Health Centers, click here.

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