For six weeks, Debbie Wilson, RN, worked with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontieres in Liberia treating as many as 80 Ebola patients daily. After her recent return to the U.S., she spoke to Regis College public health students about the challenges facing West Africa and unfounded fears in the U.S.
The scientific fact about Ebola is that it cannot be transmitted when an individual is asymptomatic, Wilson told students at the Weston, Mass.-based college, according to a news release.
In West Africa, resources are poor, and conditions of no running, safe water; crowding; small mud huts; no sanitation; constant migration and caregiving to someone close in an already weak healthcare structure favored the spread of the disease, she said.
Students asked her about the science of containing the virus, burial customs and protective suits, she said. Liberians are warm and welcoming, Wilson told the students, according to the release. Two traditional practices washing the dead and kissing the dead persons body when the disease is at a high level of contagion contributed to the spread of the disease.
Wilson said isolation, personal protective equipment, diagnosis, case management, supportive therapy, family and community support and social and physical changes regarding the dead and their burial are helping with containment.
Regis College professor, Barbara Waldorf, whose class attended the lecture, agreed. A lot has been done, and that has changed the trajectory of the virus, Waldorf said in the release.
With public health measures being established, the disease is slowing down in Liberia, Wilson said in the release. Its not vaccine that will stop the spread of Ebola now, but public health work.
Wilson also spoke about the treatment of her colleague, Kaci Hickox, another American nurse who worked with Ebola patients. Hickox was quarantined by law-enforcement officials upon her arrival last month at a New Jersey airport. The State of Maine and Hickox reached an agreement Nov. 3 allowing her to travel freely in public but requiring her to monitor her health and report any Ebola virus symptoms, according to a Reuters report.
Quarantines in this country are not an optimal or even necessary response to Ebola in West Africa, especially for returning healthcare workers who are being stigmatized here, Wilson told the students.
She said when she arrived in West Africa a few months ago, the only member of the international community that was helping was America. She said she was proud of President Obamas encouragement to follow science, not fear.