On Wednesday, September 3, the Staller Center was filled with various patrons. Some were students and others, citizens of Stony Brook. These patrons shared curiosity, perhaps even concern, over an epidemic they’ve seen or read about in the news. The curiosity comes from wanting to know more about the epidemic, and the concern comes from whether or not that epidemic can cross the waters of the world. Fortunately, there’s a well-informed expert on the subject who happens to be the president of Stony Brook University.
President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., addressed the moderately filled main theater of the Staller Center to talk about the potential threat of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. He walked out to an introduction from Kenneth Kaushansky, the Dean of Stony Brook’s School of Medicine. President Stanley opened up the lecture by reminding the audience of previous infectious diseases, like influenza and HIV. The mention of those diseases led President Stanley to a point that most people at the lecture were probably feeling at the moment:
“Infectious diseases remain a constant threat to us”
Despite this warning, the address was meant to inform and relax the minds of those in attendance. After his nearly hour-long informational on the history of Ebola and its effect on the population of West Africa, President Stanley reassured the audience that there is “almost no risk of an Ebola epidemic in the U.S.”
It was worth noting that medicine has made advancements by treating diseases like polio and small pox, so he didn’t find hopelessness in dealing with the Ebola outbreak. He believed that “we underestimated the enemy,” relating massive population expansion to the heightened risk of exposure and air travel leading to the breakdown of the “national barrier” between overseas countries that would confine diseases to certain areas. The mutation rate of the virus has made it highly adaptable as well, allowing it to last longer and still take affect in different environments. President Stanley traced the history of Ebola all the way back to cases of hemorrhagic fever in 1967 in Frankfurt, Germany, but Ebola was first officially identified on August 26, 1976 in Yambuku in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The first cases were caused by contact with the African Green Monkey. Originally thought to be the Marburg Virus due to having similar symptoms, the virus itself was named after the Ebola River. During the first year of the disease, there were 318 reported cases and 280 deaths.
Since then, there have been 3,706 reported cases and 2,328 deaths from Ebola. Following an outbreak in Sudan in 1876, there have been 21 outbreaks between 1979 and 1994 prior to the current crises. However, President Stanley presented data saying that the current outbreak has claimed more lives than all of the previous outbreaks combined, making it the worst outbreak of Ebola in history. According to President Stanley, the fact that the poorest countries in the world being involved in the outbreak (which has risen from 3 to 5 overtime) may be a big factor. He then talked about the primary carrier of Ebola: the fruit bat. As far as humans contracting the virus, President Stanley said that the saliva of fruit bats touch fruits that animals (like antelopes and primates) eat, and when humans capture and eat the animals, they become infected with the virus. Human to human contact via bodily fluid transfers or open wounds, blood clots, breaks of skin, even contact with the deceased can also transfer the virus.
Symptoms of Ebola are numerous and vary. Those infected have fever, chills, malaise, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding. President Stanley noted that those infected go through an incubation period that can last anytime from 2 to 21 days, but mostly last from 8 to 10 days. While Stanley said that there were no proven forms of anti-virus medication at this time, he was still hopeful since the U.S. government has increased support in research for bio-defense and emerging infectious diseases. He stressed the seriousness of the situation in Africa and even offered methods of preventing another outbreak. A larger number of field hospitals with containment facilities, better trained personnel, more rapid diagnostics tests, and more international coordination are all factors that could prevent further deaths and infections. President Stanley used his hard-earned knowledge to calm Stony Brook locals worried about their health, and he hoped that his presentation could give further insight on how an epidemic like Ebola could be handled and, hopefully, avoided.