American tested for ebola in Ghana

A United States citizen has been tested for the ebola virus. Though most news outlets still seem to report that he’s being tested and writing how bad that is, the test already came back negative.

The unnamed man had been to Sierra Leone and Guinea in the past weeks.Those regions are infected with the ebola virus, especially Guinea. The Reuters infographic details the affected areas

Ebola outbreak

After having been to Sierra Leone and Guinea, the man fell ill. He was quarantined and held in the Nyaho private facility in Accra while his blood was being tested in the Noguchi Memorial Institute of Medical Research. The head of disease surveillance at the Ghana Health Service, Badu Sarkodie, said that the result was negative but that further testing will be done. While the blood was being tested, the staff from the Nyaho clinic that handled or had been close to the man was kept in quarantine as well.

According to Bart Janssens, who is the director of operations for France’s Médecins Sans Frontières, the outbreak is now in it’s second wave and in his own words: “totally out of control”. And unless there is real political action, it will spread to more countries. That’s pretty bad news, because anyone who contracts the ebola virus has just a slim 10% chance of survival. But also because political action is lacking, as Janssens laments. Local authorities mistrust the organizations attempting to help, and without them announcing to the public that caring for infected people at home does more bad than good this pratice will continue to happen. This undermines the efforts to stop the outbreak.

Ebola has an incubation period of about 3 weeks. Sings of being infected are (high) fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhoea. But they don’t show up right away, so it is possible for an infected person to travel and infect others. This poses a huge threat if the virus reaches large cities with many people on the move. The biggest city hit so far is Conakry which has an international airport.

Even if you don’t have any cancellation insurance for your trip and if you don’t need to be there for professional healthcare reasons, cancel your trip. I think you’ll agree that this is not the time for a visit!

West Africa and the ebola outbreak

Doctors without borders has stated that they currently do not have the outbreak under control and that they need a massive deployment to fight the epidemic in West Africa. It is he most deadly and geographically widespread outbreak on record and is threatening to spread.

According to the World Health Organization, the first ebola outbreak was a simultaneous happening in Nzara, Sudan, and in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The last one was in a village situated near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.

The virus is originally carried by fruit bats. It is transmitted from animals to people from wild animals and once infected, humans spread the virus to other humans in the general population.

Ebola has a 90% casualty rate, so things don’t look very well if you get infected. New drugs are being tested, but that’s pretty much as far as that goes. Casualty rates remain high.

The problem with the latest outbreak is that it happened in Conakry, the capital and largest city of Guinea, which has an international airport (Conakry International Airport) and a very mobile population that moves to nearby countries to work. With 635 people infected and nearly 400 deaths, this is not the best news. Local health care is poor and there is political reluctance to take action. Having been in West Africa myself, I can vouch for the poor health care and living situations. The ebola incubation period can take up to 21 days, so it’s possible for an infected person to show none of the signs and get on an airplane and fly anywhere in the world. The prediction is that it will probably happen.

Then again, thanks to the fact that it is a big city with an international airport, help is quick to arrive. So people are being diagnosed quickly and given the best care they can get in a big city like Conakry. That’s better than anything they could get in a small town far away.

Unlike what you may have heard, ebola does not spread very easily from person to person. So it is not very contagious. However it is very infectious. Only a tiny amount of blood or other bodily fluids can cause an infection. For this reason, it is mostly the family of an infected person and the health care workers who get infected.

I won’t go into what happens to your body when you get infected by ebola. If you want to know, you can read about it on Wikipedia. But it’s not pretty.

If you don’t really need to be in West Africa right now, you shouldn’t book a ticket over just yet. Because there is NO vaccine against ebola and the only sure way to prevent it is to simply not go into infected areas. This is a definite case of “better safe than sorry”.

If you are already in West Africa, avoid the infected areas and avoid handling live or dead wild animals. Some species of animals besides primates may carry the Ebola virus.

If you need to be there for professional reasons as a health care worker you can prevent infection by wearing masks, gloves, and goggles whenever they come into contact with people who may have Ebola.

An arial view of Conakry showing the city and it's harbour

An arial view of Conakry showing the city and it’s harbour