The 1995 US film Outbreak, starring Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo and Morgan Freeman amongst others, is about the outbreak of an Ebola-like virus in Zaire, called Motaba, which spreads to a small town in the US. Without revealing the whole storyline, it’s safe to say that Outbreak’s plot speculates how far various government agencies might go to stop the spread of a deadly contagion and raises a number of “what-if” scenarios. Whilst a box office hit, the Wolfgang Petersen directed film never won any major industry awards. Rather eerily the Ebola virus broke out again in Africa a few months after the film was released.
More recently and somewhat alarmingly, a TV ad appeared in the middle of the rugby last week, warning of the dangers of Ebola (and to avoid eating fruit bats!) Also, even more alarmingly, Jo Baynham and I were asked to complete travel forms at Cape Town International Airport a week or two ago, asking what seat we were sitting in and what, if any, fever-like symptoms we had. Having lived through the Asian Bird Flu and other scares over recent years, it’s easy to dismiss this as scaremongering and “who cares?” but what are the facts and what is the current scenario?
Efforts are underway to develop a vaccine; however, none yet exists. The disease kills up to 90% of people infected and whilst contained to Africa is more highly at risk of contagion than other continents. The largest case of contagion is the current ongoing West African outbreak, affecting Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. Human to human transmission occurs via direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person, even after death. Nearly two-thirds of the cases in the current Guinea outbreak are believed to be due to burial practices.
Airborne transmission has thankfully not been discovered during Ebola outbreaks. Bats are considered to be the most likely reservoir of the virus, which explains why we shouldn’t put too many on the grill after rugby.
The current outbreak is spreading exponentially. Since its discovery in March 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) decided in August to declare the epidemic to be an international public health emergency. Whilst the affected African countries don’t have the capacity or resources to handle an outbreak of such magnitude, foreigner aid workers are being transported in to assist.
According to Wikipedia:
Ebola virus disease (EVD), Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF), or simply Ebola, is a disease of humans and other primates caused by an ebolavirus. Symptoms start two days to three weeks after contracting the virus, with a fever, sore throat, muscle pain, and headaches. Typically, vomiting, diarrhea, and rash follow, along with decreased function of the liver and kidneys. Around this time, affected people may begin to bleed both within the body and externally. [Source: Wikipedia – October 8, 2014]
Just ten days ago, on the 30th September, the first case of Ebola outside of Africa was diagnosed in Dallas, Texas and more recently a nurse in Spain was also diagnosed. In the movie, only once the outbreak hits the US, does all hell break loose. Compounding out the chart, we can clearly see why.
Understandably, these events already pose a substantial threat to the economy of West Africa and, if the virus spreads globally, to world markets. This issue remains on our radar whilst the WHO continues to consider it an international public health emergency.
Note: Since writing this article, the US victim of Ebola has sadly died and a further victim, another nurse, has been discovered in Australia.1424105631wpdm_Weekly comment Week 41 2014 - Outbreak - SC .pdf