One thing is true about the Ebola virus: It is a merciless non-discriminatory killing mechanism, the death toll from its march across the West African landscape a grim reminder that it preys upon the weak and the strong, the average unprotected layman and the carefully buttoned-up healthcare worker. Once the pathogen takes hold, in all likelihood the contractee has less than a 50 percent chance of living through the hemorrhagic fever. And in what is the world's worst ever Ebola outbreak, as the overall death toll reaches past 1,500, those bent on containing and stopping it and caring for those contaminated with it are also contracting it by the hundreds.
Agence France-Presse reported Aug. 31 (via Yahoo News) that the deadly Ebola contagion had infected over 240 healthcare workers -- with half of them dying from the virus. Nigeria is the latest country to confirm that a doctor has contracted the deadly virus, the pathogen having passed from her husband. The doctor's husband died from the workings of the viral killer.
The World Health Organization, which keeps track of the official death toll, described in a situation assessment released to the press last week that the number of healthcare workers being stricken with the Ebola virus during the present epidemic as "unprecedented." There were several factors contributing to the large number of doctors, nurses, and technicians, the health organization noted. Among them are shortages of personal protective equipment or, unfortunately, its improper use through oversight, unfamiliarity, or even inattentiveness due to exhaustion (doctors working the epidemic often put in demanding hours); far too few available medical staff for an outbreak of this immensity (the current outbreak has presented in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, and, most recently, Senegal), and the compassion that causes medical staff to work in isolation wards far beyond the number of hours recommended as safe (where fatigue causes errors in judgment, heightening chances of contraction).
The healthcare worker death toll scare, which prompts a look at providing safer conditions and procedures for those working with the infected to better safeguard those few aiding the ailing many, was underscored this week, according to Newser, by the announcement of the deaths of five healthcare workers who contributed to a study of the Ebola virus itself. Of those workers, three were nurses, one was a lab technician, and the fifth was a physician. All were part of an international team of more than fifty poeple studying the virus. In fact, their work was published in Thursday's edition of Science magazine.
According to the latest World Health Organization statistics, the number of confirmed Ebola cases stood at 3,069 as of Aug. 28, with deaths numbering 1,552.