December 30, 2012

The Ebola Virus

In July 2012, the Ebola virus broke out in a remote village in western Uganda, reawakening the public’s fear and fascination with this deadly disease. As of this writing, there have been 20 infections and 15 fatalities in total. According to the World Health Organization, the situation is now under control, and the outbreak is contained. Despite the low death toll, there are worries that future outbreaks could be deadlier.

The Ebola virus was discovered in 1976 and there have been periodic small-scale outbreaks ever since. Although the disease is rare, it has garnered a lot of media attention. After all, Ebola has no known cure and kills the majority of people infected with it. In some instances, fatality rates can reach as high as 90%. Additionally, the disease progresses rapidly, painfully, and violently, often resulting in internal bleeding, major organ failure, and death. Patients have been known to die in as little as one week after infection.

The most recent outbreak reminds those living in the industrialized world of the health dangers still present in many developing countries. As the world becomes more globalized, business travelers may find themselves visiting ever more exotic locations. Therefore, it is essential that companies take into account the threat of infectious diseases, as they are still prevalent in many parts of the developing world.

Even so, the risk of contracting illnesses like Ebola is often overstated. Although an infamous disease, there have only been 1,850 confirmed Ebola infections in the last 30 years. It is also a generally isolated disease, with outbreaks occurring in countries such as South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Gabon, and Uganda. Additionally, the global health authorities have managed to respond relatively quickly to these outbreaks, preventing their spread.

The nature of Ebola also makes it an unlikely catalyst for a pandemic. As surprising as it may seem, the disease’s very deadliness actually decreases its ability to proliferate through a human population. This is because the victims of Ebola become very ill very quickly, leaving them with little time to spread the disease widely. This is in stark contrast to HIV, where individuals can spread the virus for years without knowing that they are infected.

While Ebola may not pose a substantial threat, many visitors to developing countries do face a significant risk of illness. After all, infectious diseases still kill millions of people every year, especially those living in poor, tropical regions. However, these diseases garner far less attention than Ebola. Although they have been nearly eradicated in the West, diseases such as hepatitis, typhoid, malaria, dengue fever, tuberculosis, and many others still plague much of the developed world. As such, travelers wishing to visit these parts should prepare themselves properly. That is why this blog will devote future articles to the threat posed by infectious diseases and outline steps that individuals and firms can take in order to reduce their risk.