By: Rachel Miles
On Wednesday October 22, Dr. Morris of the anthropology department and Dr. Anderson of the sociology department set up a round table discussion about Ebola in order to give the students more information on the crisis in West Africa and the fear of what it could mean for the United States. Hosted by Model UN and Culture Shock, the discussion brought enough students to Lucas Hall that the desks quickly filled and students began finding seats on the floor. The conversation was based around the facts of the virus and also discussed the sociological aspects of how an epidemic starts, the social response, and how we ought to react while being aware of the cultural disparity between nations who are a part of this crisis.
Dr. Morris and Dr. Anderson gave a quick disclaimer that while they both work in health-related fields, neither of them are experts in the area of infectious diseases. The discussion began at 5:15 when Dr. Morris asked students what they already knew about this disease. Students called out tidbits that Dr. Morris proceeded to confirm and expound on. Ebola has five strains: four that are transmittable to humans and two that have the reputation of causing fatalities. The disease was first discovered in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Dr. Morris told the story for us of the first man diagnosed with Ebola, which was misdiagnosed as malaria and spread quickly through the hospital because of improper sterilization of medical equipment. He points out after telling the story that there is a tragedy in the fact that this case, happening in the late 1970s, was spread because there is still not proper sterilization in other countries even in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
The conversation then moved towards the specifics of what is seen when the TV is turned on. Dr. Anderson implored students to gather their information not from the news but from the CDC website, Carilion Clinic website, UN.org and the World Health Organization website. The crisis has been most prevalent in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Outside of the thousands of cases in these three countries, there have been fewer than 25 confirmed cases and only 3 confirmed in the United States. Symptoms of Ebola are very similar to symptoms of the flu such as fever, body aches, gastrointestinal blood loss, and, later in the disease, a rash. Despite the confusion, Dr. Morris informed the students that Ebola is only spread through the transferring of bodily fluids. He says there is a possibility to catch it from an incident like a sneeze, but the true concern is from taking care of people who have been diagnosed with Ebola. In addition to increased education and awareness, which are certain to lower the possibility of spreading the disease, there are new standards of care and increased guidelines in hospitals. These are put in place namely to protect those working in the hospital who are at the highest risk for transmission.
The sociological aspects were also discussed. The reasons that the crisis in West Africa has grown to such extremes has a lot to do with proximity of habitation, inability to avoid contact with possibly infected people, lack of funds to go and be treated at a hospital, lack of education as to what symptoms to look out for, and a different cultural mindset that does not encourage modern medicine as a solution to disease. However, since coming to the United States, the publicity has heightened enormously despite the decreased danger that is in this country. It is also important in situations like this to be aware and sensitive to the differences in culture between the affected countries and understand that solutions which may be feasible in America do not have the same potential in Western Africa. Yet it is necessary to note that while the disease is very serious, the current risk for Roanoke College students is very low, and there are rumors that a vaccine will be available starting by the new year.