Ebola educational seminar at Lee fights media hysteria

The numerous headlines have been alarming, and multiple countries and communities have been affected by the virus that has caused panic from Africa to America.

Tri-Beta, the Biology Honor Society, hosted a seminar on Thursday Oct. 23 that was led by Benjamin Christmann, assistant professor of biology and former employee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in order to educate students and members of the community on the dangers, facts and fictions of the virus.

The Ebola virus is classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a fatal disease that can result in a death rate as high as 90 percent.

'[Tri-Beta] agreed whole-heartedly that it [Ebola] was something very important to talk about because it has huge implications on our society today and as scientists and Christians going into the medical or health field, we needed to be aware of this situation as it is unfolding,' said president of Tri-Beta Ben Horowitz.

In the lecture, Christmann said that as of one week ago the total number of Ebola cases reported by the CDC'along with the World Health Organization'is 9,203. Of the cases reported, almost half are in Liberia. The other half is dominated by Sierra Leone, Guinea and the United States, which is number five on the list of affected countries.

On Sept 30, 2014 the first case of Ebola in the United States was confirmed in a man who had traveled to Dallas from West Africa. Most recently, a doctor from New York who had recently been in Guinea tested positive for Ebola, bringing the total up to four confirmed cases of Ebola in the Unites States.

'We have known about Ebola since 1976 ' There are five species of the Ebola viruses and [four that affect humans]. Zaire, which is the most lethal, is the Ebola virus that is causing the current outbreak,' Christmann said.

Christmann said the danger of this virus is that the body cannot recognize it as a virus since it does not present itself as such.

'Almost every virus makes double stranded RNA ' but double stranded RNA is a danger signal. You never ever make double stranded RNA during anything your cell does,' Christmann said. ' VP35 [a protein in the Ebola virus] blocks the kind of immune response that interferes with those proteins so the cell cannot mount an antiviral response and [Ebola] is able to replicate unhindered.'

For those who become ill with this virus, there is a two to 21 day incubation period where the virus is not contagious. After the incubation period, the symptoms will begin to appear and the infected person becomes contagious.

According to WHO, those who are at the highest risk for contracting Ebola are health workers, families or mourners who are in close contact to the dead.

Symptoms of the Ebola virus include fever, headaches, nausea, red eyes, aches and pains, bleeding, blood clotting and shock from fluid loss Christmann said.

'The problem with Ebola, and why people don't [realize they have it] soon enough, is that it has pretty similar symptoms to malaria'so a lot of people who are getting sick [in malaria affected areas] often think 'it's my yearly bout with malaria.' And so before someone can seek proper treatment, it's too late," Christmann said.

The shared symptoms between Ebola and Malaria can make diagnosis of Ebola difficult without proper lab testing, although this testing can be fairly expensive and unavailable in most remote areas.

Christmann said that lack of education about the disease'how it spreads and misinformation'can cause difficulty in its containment.

However, there is hope for those who wish to contain this disease.

'Getting screened soon enough when you start experiencing symptoms [helps]. If we can increase that, then we can increase the chance of successful therapy beforehand,' Christmann said.

Christmann said increased education on the disease and how to treat it, as well as educating health care workers on how to put on personal protective equipment and properly sanitize can help curb the virus.

Treatments for Ebola are available. Blood transfusions from surviving Ebola patients to replace lost blood and provide patients with antibodies to fight the virus have been shown to help combat the disease, as well as an experimental treatment made up of three kinds of antibodies known as Zmapp.

Christmann said the problem now with Ebola is hysteria.

Sophomore Ástrubal Martinez said education through seminars like these allow people to see past the media hysteria and to educate themselves about important issues like the current Ebola epidemic.

'We've been studying human viruses for 100 years and have never seen them change their mode of transmission. This 'going airborne' is really unfounded, and we have no examples of this happening," Christmann said. 'Viruses never change their route of infection."

Ebola is a virus that can be severe, but can also be treated and controlled using the right treatments and precautions.

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