The Beginnings Of a Global Pandemic? (first published on October 2014)

It would be nice to believe that Ebola is just going to go away some time soon, but unfortunately that does not look likely. The World Health Organisation continually warn that this crisis is not improving and so far the international response has been inadequate to say the least.

This truly is the worst epidemic since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920 that killed maybe 100 million people around the world. However, unlike then, international travel by plane, boat or motor vehicle is commonplace.  It’s estimated that Spanish flu killed around 20% of infected people(1), WHO gives an estimate of up to 70% with this current strain of Ebola.

Apart from the higher death rate and the increased risks of transmission via modern transportation which is both much faster and cheaper than a hundred years ago; there are other factors to be concerned about.

Aerosol Transmission (2)
The current wisdom being punted by the press is that Ebola cannot be transferred by this method. A 2012 study (3) suggests that this method could account for the transfer of the disease from pigs to primates.

If this is indeed true then coughing and sneezing could also be a means of transmission human to human. If this is actually the case, it might explain why such a large number of health care workers have contracted the disease despite precautions.

Temperature checks are not enough
We already know that this disease has an incubation period of 2 days up to 21 days (4). However it is possible for someone to travel abroad without showing symptoms for up to 3 weeks (21 days), which means that they could conceivably pass through temperature checks undetected. By the time they become ill enough to seek treatment they may well have come into contact with, and infected, hundreds of people – this is not inconceivable.

This Ebola outbreak is a new strain (5)
Yes, you read that correctly. This outbreak is not the Zaire strain, although it appears to be related. Protocols set for the Zaire strain may no longer be sufficient, especially if (as seems likely) it can transfer in water droplets (e.g. saliva).

There are still too few travel restrictions
The WHO is now concentrating on stemming the progress of Ebola in the 3 main problem countries in West Africa. Obviously if it can be eliminated there then the problem for the rest of the world diminishes. However it is still possible to fly directly to 30 countries from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone. It is also possible to travel indirectly to anywhere in the world.  Surely, in desperate times, people who can escape from ‘hotspots’ will do so and worry about informing health officials afterwards?

Geographical spread continues (6)
On 16th October it was reported WHO would focus on 15 countries close to the ‘hotzone’. The WHO Situations Report maps show a spread of Ebola away from the coast towards the borders of other countries such as Ivory Coast. If the disease cannot be contained within the current 3 stricken countries then this could be an unprecedented disaster.

What does this mean for you?
If like me, you live in a (currently) unaffected country you may feel that you have nothing to fear. Perhaps after reading this you might reconsider. Ebola may be just 1 flight, boat trip or car journey away from your nation so be ready to act if there is an outbreak.

I am not a doctor, medical practitioner or bio-medical scientist but I have enough of a scientific education to be able make some common-sense, rational decisions that may save my life.

H ave a contingency plan if Ebola arrives in a major city in your country, and in the meantime avoid international travel if you possibly can - as airports and ports will be major nodes where transmission could occur. This may seem silly to some reading this, however if you actually catch this disease you may only have a 30% chance of surviving – a sobering thought indeed.

Here is my contingency plan if it arrives in Ireland:

Avoid major cities and large towns
Be ready to quickly buy safety gear such as a Hazmat suit, nitrile gloves,  goggles and  face masks
Buy anti-viral hand/body wash (Ebola is a virus not a bacterium)
Buy rehydrating powders, headache tablets
Avoid hospitals and doctors’ surgeries
Avoid crowded places as much as possible
Stay calm – panic generally leads to irrational and foolish actions

The mainstream media is trying not to panic anyone, which in some ways is a good thing. However, in order to avoid panic, they are being somewhat economical with the truth. Bare in mind that governments and corporations (such as airlines, oil producers) want business to carry on as usual so that the economy is not affected. While this is a reasonable short term goal – failing to inform the public of vital information might actually turn this from a disaster into a world-wide pandemic.

I imagine that a few weeks after Christmas (peak travel time) we will have a much better idea of whether or not this is a genuine pandemic rather than an isolated but serious epidemic. In the meantime, stay calm, educate yourself and be prepared should it be necessary to protect yourself – prevention is always better than cure.



  1. Taubenberger, Jeffery K.; Morens, David M. (January 2006). ”1918 Influenza: the Mother of All Pandemics"
  2. Kathleen H. Harriman, PhD, MPH, RN, Lisa M. Brosseau, ScD (April, 2011) “Controversy: Respiratory Protection for Healthcare Workers”
  3. Hana M. Weingartl, Carissa Embury-Hyatt, Charles Nfon, Anders Leung, Greg Smith & Gary Kobinger (April 2012). “Transmission of Ebola virus from pigs to non-human primates”
  4. World Health Organisation, (August 2014). ”GAR: Frequently asked questions on Ebola virus disease”
  5. Saliou Samb (April 2014). “Study: New strain is responsible for Ebola outbreak in West Africa”
  6. Aljazeera (October 2014). “Ebola: WHO lists 15 priority countries”