Ebola: the scare and the symptoms

The recent outbreak of the Ebola virus continues to grab headlines around the world. According to the World Health Organization, 4,000 people have already died in West Africa because of the disease. In the United States, Texas has become ground zero for the virus’s arrival in our corner of the globe. Nina Pham, tested positive for Ebola after treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the patient who carried the virus with him on a flight from Liberia, is the most recent, high profile U.S. case of someone contracting the virus.

Unlike Duncan, who died as a result of the virus on October 8, Pham is apparently recovering and has been treated with blood given by Dr. Kent Brantly. He contracted Ebola in Liberia but was treated with an experimental drug treatment known as Zmapp which has not been made widely available. So far, of the two people in Spain who were diagnosed after coming in contact with a person from Africa have tried the drug. One died, the other is recovering.

Pablo Gomez, a molecular biologist, explained how Ebola works. “With Ebola you’re going through extreme dehydration and everything that works in the body to keep fluids such as blood inside the body, stops working, so your body starts to expunge,” he explained.

There is something to be said about the differences between the outbreak in West Africa and the infected cases in the U.S., where the sole fatality was a carrier flying in from Liberia. “In a wealthy country you have the resources and sanitation conditions to keep it under control. In a much poorer country populations don’t have access to healthcare or the kind of treatment a patient can get here,” said Gomez.

“With viruses you mostly have to live them out. It’s not like bacteria where you can fight back with antibiotics,” he said. “Viruses do something called reverse transcription,” explained Gomez, describing how it works just like a computer virus. The virus infects the victim’s system, his or her DNA, and then replicates itself. “It’s essentially all over and you have to live it out, find treatment, or suffer the consequences as we have seen with Ebola.”

At the moment the outbreak has not reached California. A recent scare at LAX, however, involving a passenger arriving from Liberia resulted in the screened passenger testing negative for the virus. Even the L.A. Metro has not been immune to the fear in the air as a passenger on Monday decided to scream “I have Ebola!” prompting the bus to be stopped and hosed down by the Los Angeles County Of Public Health. The passenger involved did not carry the virus.

For those on the look out however, the Center For Disease Control reports that symptoms of Ebola include fever (greater than 38.6°C or 101.5°F), severe headache, muscle pain, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal (stomach) pain and unexplained hemorrhage (bleeding or bruising).

The Vice President of Student Affairs, Mike Tuitasi, will reveal details as to what the college campus will do in the even that Ebola reaches Los Angeles and SMC.

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