About a year ago I was obsessed with an app game called Plague. Inc. In it you play as a bacteria or virus (more options were available in the paid version-customizable diseases were all the rage) and your overarching goal was to infect, and kill, as many humans as possible. You did this by thwarting research and development of cures and mutating to the highest contagion factor you could. Morbid, but stupidly addicting. You can bet I named my diseases to reflect the zombie apocalypse with which I wished to scourge the Earth. Or, I named it after fluffy, loveable things- you know just meet the irony quota. The Panda Death- cute but deadly.
I learned, through playing hour after exhausting hour, that the fastest method was to get yourself airborne. Once you could be passed along by a single cough or sneeze things got a lot easier…for the disease, it didn’t really work out well for the people. It was easier to take over places that had less access to technology and medicine and poorer living conditions (read: most of the bottom half of the world map) than it was those countries with superior technology and high quality of living (read: the upper portion of the world map). Those countries in the upper portion of the map were the targets you needed to get in order to tip the balance of power into your tiny, viral (or bacterial- no judgement), hands.
I think you probably get where I am going with this.
The news, Twitter, Facebook, pretty much anywhere people gather online and off has been exploding with conversation- most of it very doom and gloom- about the recent outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa. Ebola, specifically the Zebov strain (look who did research for this) which is the one causing all the trouble- and is the most lethal of the strains- is among the most terrifying diseases we currently know about.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel an initial twinge of fear and dread when reading about the horrifying numbers of infected and deaths in Western Africa, and yes I briefly contemplated what the odds of a pandemic were. A collage of remembered clips from such films as: Contagion, 28 Days Later, Outbreak etc flashed through my mind and I felt my stomach twist uncertainly. I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t sure how Ebola spread. I knew some of the more gruesome details about what happens after you contract it, but I wasn’t sure if it was air-borne, water-borne, required contact with specific animals or people. I recalled some half memory of being told as a child that it had been initially contracted through sex with animals (likely NOT the case). So, unlike a great many people it seems, I sought to educate myself. A short Google search later I was relieved to discover that Ebola requires direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone infected with the virus.
That is one of the lowest mutations on Plague. Inc.
However, one has to take into consideration the living standards of large parts of West Africa. Families are left to tend to their own, living and dead, without any protection gear more likely than not. They are in a prime situation to come into contact with bodily fluids as they tend to their very sick loved ones. Possibly there are large families living in small spaces which increase the chances of transmission. Health care workers are in the position of not having the level of gear and protection as perhaps they should. Basically everything a contact based virus needs.
There was hysterical outcry when it was announced that the two American care workers who had contracted it while treating patients in West Africa were being flown home. Numerous statements came out from the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control stating that you basically can not contract Ebola by being on the same plane as someone with it. I guess, unless they vomit directly on you- but it’s not like if someone coughs in that pressurized flying coffin everyone on that plane has now been exposed to the virus. At least in the US the infected aid workers will have access to (experimental) treatment, and their caretakers will have access to protection gear and necessary equipment to decrease the chances of transmission. Plus if you were sick, you’d want to go home too.
The truth of the matter is that Canada and the US- as yes other parts of the Western World- do not have ideal conditions for spreading Ebola or other contact required diseases. That’s not to say it could never happen, only that there would certainly have to be other circumstances at play as well to reach pandemic levels. As it stands H1N1, avian flu, SARS- all airborne transmitted- pose(d) more of a threat to us than Ebola currently does, or likely will.
While Ebola is horrifying and deadly, and I feel greatly for those affected by it- Malaria and AIDS still have a higher overall death toll. Ebola outbreaks occur in spikes and valleys, every few years there’s an outbreak and then it goes quiet again for some time. Ebola is an efficient sprinter, but Malaria and AIDS are in it for the long haul- they are the marathon runners in this race.
So, take a moment to reflect on the blessed existence you likely live and consider those who are facing a very terrifying and tragic illness, take a deep breath and calm down. If I learned anything from video games, it’s that sparking a pandemic is harder than the films (which are meant to scare you) lead you to believe.
If you would like to learn more about Ebola please do a little research. This video does a rather good job at giving a condensed, but informative, overview of the situation.
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