Ebola: the horrors of disease epidemics

In my junior year in high school, I was in Advanced Placement Environmental Science (APES). At some point, we had to give a presentation on some sort of infectious disease that was related to the environment.

My topic was Ebola.

I stated all the necessary facts to complete the presentation. But I never once thought about how it feels to have Ebola and didn’t think about it until a few weeks ago.

Ebola is not pretty, that’s for sure.

The burnt orange dirt stretches to the horizon, tangling with the stiff green grass. Colors dull as eyes gaze farther into the atmosphere. A fly hums somewhere near. Houses, shacks and huts stack on top of each other like a game of jenga.

Food is scarce. There is no superstore lined with endless walls of packaged goods. Hunger contracts abdomens like a snake strangling the life out of its prey. Bats dart through the air, and primates lurk in the branches of trees. When there is nothing to eat, a bat or a monkey so tantalizingly close does not sound like a bad idea. Anything to ease the breath-taking hunger.

Where did Ebola come from?

Ebola originates from primates and bats. When a human eats an infected animal, the microscopic worm-like virus infects its body. The virus incubates and hides in blood streams, growing stronger before symptoms start to appear. The first symptom is a fever that rages hot and consuming. Muscles twinge in pain. Headaches gnaw. Bowels convulse, expelling diarrhea. Stomach twists.

As days pass, liver and kidney dysfunction increase the blinding pain and discomfort. Bruises bloom on skin as blood vessels erupt and seep out of the soft gums of mouths, noses, mixing with stool.

Hospitals overflow with infected patients and bodily fluids swimming with the virus. Chlorine and bleach are running low. Nurses haphazardly cover their bodies with masks and smocks and gloves. Plastic covered shoes slip on the floor as bodies are carried out one by one after a mist of disinfectant settles.

Loved ones mourn the loss of mothers, fathers, daughters, sisters, brothers, and friends. Mourning rituals involve touching the body, connecting with their loved one before they’re buried.

Less than two weeks pass. More friends and family and strangers are slick with the beginning fever. Their ritual, the touch spreads the deadly virus.

For the past week, I have been obsessively poring over news articles and official reports from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) on the current Ebola outbreak and epidemic in West Africa. I blurted out “shit!” when I was at work on Thursday, sitting at my desk job in the art building on campus as I watched the death and infection tolls increase by hundreds each day.

In Sierra Leone, five people are infected every hour.

Shit.

According to the CDC, as of October 3, 2014 7,470 people in West Africa are infected and 3,431 have died.

So, besides being an “informed individual,” why am I weirdly obsessed with this gnarly disease? My curiosity was sparked when I read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) annual reports. The reports are writing and complied by hundreds of scientists around the world, and in one section they warned that infectious disease epidemics would increase with the changing climate. Hmm.

I combed through the report, looking to see if they directly addressed Ebola. They didn’t. But connections are still there.

The outbreak is too recent for scientific articles on the topic, but climate change affects things that have and could potentially aggravate this epidemic.

But more importantly, this epidemic should serve as a warning because increased climate change means vector-born disease will get worse. The gnats, flies, or whatever nasty little creatures can survive longer if there’s warmer winters; this makes the chances of survival better for the vector, and the disease.

And those diseases will be equally awful and even more widespread than Ebola.

If the rest of the world ignores West Africa, the number of infected people could reach over a million by January. That’s a lot of humans. And humans interact and touch other humans.

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