With the first case of Ebola now diagnosed in Texas, scientists and physicians in North America are trying to put the threat in perspective for people who suddenly have a lethal West African virus on their doorstep.
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There's an easy consensus that North Americans have little to worry about personally. Equally, however, there's a growing concern that if Western countries don't act now to curb spread of the virus, it could become a horrific political problem.
"We might be complacent today and say this is not going to be our issue," Dr. Kamran Khan of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto told CBC News. "But if we continue to let this grow exponentially, it will move beyond a humanitarian issue, and it will become a direct, national-self-interest issue."
On The National Tuesday, CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge asked a panel of experts what we didn't know about the virus and the way it is spreading.
But first, he asked Dr. Tim Jagatic, of Doctors Without Borders, which is on the front line in combatting the disease in Africa, what it's like to face Ebola as a doctor.
Jagatic, a native of Windsor, Ont., has worked in Sierra Leone and will soon return. He describes the experience as anticlimactic.
"You're not dealing with … blood coming out of the eyes, nose, ears, some type of dramatic idea of what this is. You're seeing people with a fever, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, the types of symptoms that you can associate with so many diseases.
"And when you see this, you realize: we can do something about this, we really can. We can help these people. … We were able to take a disease which has a 90 per cent mortality rate when nothing is done, and we brought it down to 50 per cent with the most basic medical care."
What are we learning now about Ebola and how to deal with it? Here, from the members of The National's Ebola Checkup Panel, are the responses:
1. It's hard to get Ebola
"Although it has a very high mortality rate, in fact, it's not so easy to contract. It's not a highly infectious disease. The primary way to get it is by directly sharing body fluids — which means that to contain the spread is actually pretty easy to do. … We need to wash our hands, we need to wear masks and gloves … we need to not have people crammed into overly crowded environments."
— Dr. Danielle Martin, Women's College Hospital, Toronto
2. How we interact with animals
"This is an infectious disease of animals and … about three-quarters of all new infectious diseases that we see in humans — from HIV to SARS to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and now Ebola — have their origins in animals. … How we interact with animal populations is directly going to affect our own health and our security. "
— Dr. Kamran Khan, St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto
3. How to stay sane in the field
"It's always very important to … maintain the delicate balance between emotion and rationale. Always pay attention to your surroundings. Always make sure that when you're taking your personal protective equipment off that you're doing it properly. Always just [make] sure that you're staying calm, that you're keeping yourself in a proper mental state so that you're able to get through this rather high-stress environment."
— Dr. Tim Jagatic, Doctors Without Borders
4. It doesn't transmit before symptoms
Dr. Michael Gardam, director of infection prevention and control at the University Health Network in Toronto, was asked on CBC News Network on Wednesday how worried people on a plane or at an airport should be, given the new diagnosis of a traveller from Liberia to Dallas. He replied:
"If there is any good news about the Ebola virus, it's actually quite hard to catch. … For people in casual contact with this individual [in Texas], when they actually had symptoms, [the U.S. Centers for Disease Control] is going to be telling them to check their temperatures, etc.
"If people had really close contact, CDC will quarantine those people. Anybody who had contact with this person prior to the onset of symptoms, CDC might talk to them, sort of calm them down, but not [be] terribly concerned about those people, because it doesn't transmit before the onset of symptoms.