October 10 – Catch The Fever

Today’s factismal: There is a 50:50 chance that England will have a case of Ebola by the end of the month.

If you’ve been watching the health news lately, then you are familiar with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Thus far, more than 7,200 people have contracted the disease and nearly 3,300 have died from it. Worse, though the outbreak has mainly been confined to five countries in West Africa, thanks to rapid air travel there is a substantial chance that there will be new cases in England and France by the end of the month. This is the largest outbreak of the disease ever, which isn’t saying much as there have only been twenty outbreaks in the thirty-eight years since it was discovered. For comparison, every year there are flu outbreaks that sicken millions and kill up to 49,000 people in the US alone. So why should we worry about something that has done (comparatively) little damage? Because medical researchers remember the 1918 “Spanish flu” epidemic. And they know that the surest way to prevent another such disaster is to catch it in the early stages.

Air travel routes to and from West Africa weighted by number of passengers (Image courtesy Gomes et al)

Air travel routes to and from West Africa weighted by number of passengers
(Image courtesy Gomes et al)

But it is very hard to catch the early stages of diseases such as the Spanish flu and ebola. That’s because these diseases don’t start out in humans; instead, they start out in animals (and are frequently named for them, as those who remember the swine flu and bird flu can attest). At some point, the disease jumps from its normal host animal (where it may not cause any symptoms) and into humans, creating an outbreak.

One sign that is sometimes useful for indicating that a disease may be ready to jump hosts is any unexplained increase in ill or dead animals. And that’s where you can help. If you see a sick critter, be it fish, fowl, or four-legged, then please report it to the Wildlife Health Event Reporter. They’ll take your information and pass it on to the researchers, who will then use it to monitor the health of the wildlife. To give a report, head over to:
http://www.whmn.org/wher/

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