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Background Information on the Ebola Virus

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At the present time (late 2014), the world is facing an ongoing outbreak of the Ebola virus. If a person were to only watch the news, though, one would gain little understanding of the pathways through which this problem has emerged; rather, one would just be vaguely aware of the fact that there is a potential risk of a lethal epidemic in the air. The purpose of this sample expository essay from Ultius is to provide a more in-depth overview of the nature of the problem at hand.

In order to do this, the essay will begin by describing what the Ebola virus and how it first emerged as a disease that can affect human beings. Then, it will proceed to consider relevant information regarding the present global outbreak of Ebola virus. Finally, this essay on a public health issue will close with a reflection on the implications of this discussion for prevention and treatment efforts in the face of the outbreak. 

History of the Ebola virus

According to Oxford's Peters and Peters, the Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976, when it was identified as

"the causative agent of major outbreaks of hemmorhagic fever in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sudan" (paragraph 4).

The same researchers have also indicated that the virus first visited the United States in 1989 as a result of the importation of infected primates from the Philippines. There have been several outbreaks since then; that is, the current outbreak is not unprecedented. However, it would seem that past outbreaks were largely confined to the African continent itself.

This is the region that is still most significantly affected by the current outbreak; however, the large amount of media attention garnered by the present manifestation of the Ebola virus may be attributable to the fact that the outbreak has become more global in scale and thus threatens to affect large populations of people who have otherwise been unfamiliar with the presence of the virus in their own nations. 

Interestingly, little is known about the precise mechanisms through which an Ebola virus outbreak among human beings first emerges. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has written:

"Because the natural reservoir host of Ebola viruses has not yet been identified, the way in which the virus first appears in a human at the start of an outbreak is unknown. However, scientists believe that the first patient becomes infected through contact with an infected animal, such as a fruit bat or primate (apes and monkeys). This is called a spillover event" (CDC).

In their scholarly article on this subject, Chowell and Nishiura have also confirmed that although the exact reservoir of the Ebola virus within the natural habitat is unknown, the best hypothesis is that fruit bats are the animals that naturally harbor the virus. From this point, primates may get infected through contact either with fruit bats or with fruits that have been partially eaten by bats; and then human beings would become infected through either direct contact with the bats or (more commonly) direct contact with the infected primates. 

This also points toward why the Ebola virus originates in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia: these would be the places where human beings are most likely to have direct contact with primates. Moreover, these regions are often highly rural and/or impoverished in nature, and they may lack adequate infrastructure for ensuring that basic objectives pertaining to sanitation are adequately met within the human communities.

The presence of primates in close proximity to human beings, when combined with these issues pertaining to infrastructure, would seem to create an ideal kind of situation for the cross-species transmission of the Ebola virus. From this point, the virus can get transmitted from one human being to another human being, which could eventually result in an epidemic or even a pandemic. People in the developed world may thus be at risk even if they do not themselves personally encounter primates, since they would only need to encounter other persons who have encountered those primates. 

Ebola as a globalized disease

At this juncture of the present discussion, it is perhaps worth commenting on the role played by globalization in the current Ebola virus situation. Broadly speaking, globalization is the global political, technological, and economic process through which goods, services, and people from different parts of the planet coming into increasingly easy and constant contact with each other (see Scheurman).

The past several decades have been characterized by an unprecedented level of globalization, to the point that almost no human community any longer exists in isolation from all other human communities. Thus, an Ebola virus outbreak in Africa is now a concern for the rest of the world not just for humanitarian reasons, but also because the existence of such a situation in any part of the planet necessarily implies a potential danger for communities in all other parts of the planet as well. 

U.S. outbreak

The first case of Ebola within the United States during the current outbreak is an excellent example of this global dynamic. As a news article written on the 30th of September 2014 has indicated, this case was diagnosed in the city of Dallas, and the patient had "left Liberia on September 19 and arrived in the United States on September 20" (Ford, paragraph 1).

This patient had contracted Ebola during his visit to Africa, but he was not diagnosed until several days after having returned to the United States. Not only did this introduce the disease into this nation, it also presented the risk that the disease might have spread to several other persons within the nation as well, as the original patient from Africa was not quarantined immediately (since no one knew that he had contracted the Ebola virus).

So, if another person were to have gotten the virus from this patient on the plane back to America, and then that person continued on to (for example) France, then the entire European Union would potentially be at risk for the spread of Ebola. This is an inherent danger of the modern globalized world, in which people can move from one geographical location to another with incredible speed, and in which the sheer density of interconnections between different places on the planet is immense. 

In this context, though, it is worth more closely examining the actual epidemiological data regarding the current outbreak of the Ebola virus. It would seem that within Africa itself, the current outbreak is unprecedented in scope, as Chowell and Nishiura have shown through the use of mathematical modeling techniques. At the international level, however, the scope of the outbreak is not anywhere close to what one might imagine by merely extrapolating from the amount of coverage that the media has dedicated to the issue.

As Ashkenas et al. of the New York Times have indicated in a very clear way, there have thus far only been 10 cases of Ebola within the United States and 12 cases within all of Europe; and there have only been 2 deaths within the United States and 3 deaths within Europe. Moreover, most of these cases have affected healthcare workers who themselves were working in Africa but then returned home for treatment.

For the purposes of comparison, it is worth pointing out that according to the World Health Organization, there have been over 16,000 cases of Ebola and almost 7,000 deaths from the illness, most of which has been concentrated in the nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone (see Johnston). These numbers of staggering, and they indicate the extent to which the world outside of Africa has in fact been largely unaffected by the current outbreak of Ebola. 

Media attention versus actual level of threat presented by Ebola

The media attention, however, may be justified by the fact that there is in fact a significant potential for a pandemic situation to emerge in nations outside of Africa fail to take the appropriate precautions to ensure that Ebola does not spread across their populations. For example, if Ebola has not become more widespread in the United States and Europe, then this is surely because these nations have taken the appropriate steps (such as quarantining suspected cases) to prevent the transmission of the disease from taking place. Moreover, the media attention itself may have contributed to this increased public vigilance. 

What makes the Ebola virus especially threatening (and particularly within a globalized context) is that there is no known cure for the illness. Peters and Peters have reviewed some of the main experimental therapies that are currently being developed; these include the search for a vaccine and the use of antiviral drugs. For the present time, though, treatment for Ebola consists not of curing the illness but rather of controlling the patient's symptoms and optimizing the quality of his holistic environment while the illness runs its course.

The epidemiological data clearly indicates that not all people who contract the Ebola virus will die from it. However, the treatment environment as well as personal factors specific to the patient (such as age and general health status) can play a significant role in determining how and whether the patient will recover. 

In this context, it is worth reflecting on Chowell and Nishiura's recommendation regarding infrastructure and the spread of Ebola:

"A serious shortage of timely resources in the region is the key factor responsible for the onset and disproportionate scale of the ongoing epidemic in West Africa. In particular, the epidemic is unfolding in a region characterized by limited public health infrastructure" (paragraph 3).

In the United States, there are rigorous protocols in place regarding what must be done when a person is diagnosed with Ebola in order to stop the transmission of the disease; but in Africa, especially in areas suffering from poverty, the infrastructure that would be needed in order to implement such protocols in a systematic and reliable way is quite simply missing. The result is that the Ebola epidemic continues to proceed unchecked: the sick are not consistently kept apart from the healthy, and there are inadequate resources (both human and financial) present for engaging in the monitoring and preventive activities that would be needed to get the disease under control. 

Ultimately, the epidemiology of the current outbreak of Ebola actually seems to quite closely resemble that of previous events over the last couple decades. That is, African nations continue to bear almost the entirety of the burden of the disease; and in terms strictly of numbers, the effects of the outbreak on other nations (including the United States) has been virtually negligible.

Again, the possibility surely exists for further spread of the disease in the Western world as well; but this possibility has by and large been effectively contained. In Africa, on the other hand, that possibility has developed into a deadly actuality. Given that this is the case, it could perhaps be suggested that the disproportional media coverage that has been dedicated to the issue of Ebola may have more to do with what could be called the imagination than with the empirical state of affairs regarding Ebola at the present time.

Given the nature of the broad global political and economic situation today, it would seem that people are almost living in expectation of some kind of cataclysmic event (such as an Ebola pandemic) occurring and drastically changing the face of the entire world. However, thus far, no such thing as happened, and the threat remains almost fully within the sphere of mere possibility. 

Concluding thoughts

In summary, this sample blog post has developed an overview of the Ebola outbreak, both past and present. It began by providing information about the nature and origins of Ebola, proceeded to consider information pertaining to the current Ebola outbreak, and finally reflected on some of the implications that follow from this discussion.  Hopefully this information provided in this sample essay may offer some tips on improving your own writing.

An important point that has emerged here is that the current epidemiological trends do in fact resemble previous trends, in the sense that the outbreak is primarily confined to Africa, with other nations having done a quite effective job of containing transmission of the disease. Within Africa itself, though, the magnitude of the outbreak would seem to be unprecedented, and steps should surely be taken to develop infrastructure within the African nations in order to help contain the outbreak. 

Works Cited

Ashkenas, Jeremy, Larry Buchanan, Joe Burgess, Hannah Fairfield, Denise Grady et al. "Ebola Facts: How Many Patients Have Been Treated Outside of West Africa?" The New York Times 25 Nov. 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Transmission." Ebola (Ebola Virus Disease). Author, 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.

Chowell, Gerardo, and Hiroshi Nishiura. "Transmission Dynamics and Control of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD): A Review." BMC Medicine 12 (2014): 196. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. 

Ford, Dana. "First Diagnosed Case of Ebola in the U.S." CNN 30 Sep. 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. 

Johnston, Chris. "Number of Ebola Infection in West Africa passes 16.000." The Guardian 29 Nov. 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. < 

Peters, C. J., and J. W. Peters. "An Introduction to Ebola: The Virus and the Disease." The Journal of Infectious Diseases 179.suppl 1 (1999): ix-xvi. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.

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