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When You've Seen Subway Rats, Ebola Seems Like Nothin'

Oct 24, 2014

Yesterday, public health officials announced that Ebola had been identified for the first time in both Mali, a country that neighbors Guinea, and New York City. The arrival of the virus in another West African country is a cause for concern. The World Health Organization has sent a team of health experts to manage contact tracing and infection control for the two-year-old patient.

Working in Ebola hotspots is old hat for NPR. We've had reporters and photographers at the epidemic since April. Our global health correspondent Jason Beaubien has been to West Africa three times during the crisis.

This week it's my turn.

When I left the U.S. last week, I brought a list of tips from veteran Ebola reporters for keeping myself safe. Many of them are proving to be quite useful:

Health officials are saying it. Scientists are saying it. Heck, even many journalists are saying it: "The risk of Ebola infection remains vanishingly small in this country," The New York Times wrote Wednesday.

But what does that mean? Are you more likely to be struck by lightning or catch Ebola?

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Have you ever swallowed unflavored rehydration solution, or ORS? That's what they call the mixture of salt, sugar and water given to Ebola patients.

I've taken more than a mouthful, and urgh! It tastes dreadful.

But doctors who were among Nigeria's Ebola survivors all agree that they may not have recovered from the virus without having forced down the foul-tasting, but apparently life-saving fluid.

Gallons of it.

In early October, blizzard conditions in Nepal killed more than 16 foreign trekkers and 17 locals, most of them lightly-dressed porters who were carrying the trekkers' gear. The tragedy calls attention to the dangers of trekking — and the risky life of local porters.

At 42, Rane Tamang knows the trekking business well. From a poor village in central Nepal and with little formal education, he started work as a porter 25 years ago, lugging 90 pounds of gear up mountains. He moved up to serve as an assistant cook and now alternates between cook and guide.

An unusual government moratorium aimed at controversial research with high-risk viruses has halted important public health research, scientists told an advisory committee to the federal government on Wednesday.

When Ebola began killing people in the Monrovia suburb of Clara Town several months ago, some residents blamed vaccines.

One vaccinator in the town says mothers didn't want her near their babies.

"They had a notion that when the people come to the hospital, we would inject them and kill them," says vaccinator Che Che Richardson at the Clara Town Health Center, "because it was the hospital giving the people Ebola."

Rumors like that, combined with the closing of many health facilities, have caused childhood vaccination rates to plummet in Liberia.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Aerial drones are targeting a new enemy: malaria.

Four hundred feet above a Malaysian forest, a three-foot eBee drone hovers and takes pictures with a 16-megapixel camera every 10 to 20 seconds. But it's not gathering images of the mosquitoes that transmit malaria. Even today's best drones aren't capable of such a photographic marvel. Rather, the drone is looking at a changing landscape that holds clues to the disease's spread.

Baby Gammy might mean the end of Thailand's lucrative surrogacy business.

He's the child who was carried by a surrogate mom in Thailand-- and rejected by the Australian couple who had agreed to pay the mother $12,000. The reason: Prenatal testing showed that the baby, a twin, had Down syndrome.

Ebola has rightly gripped the world's attention, but its death toll pales in comparison to other infectious diseases like tuberculosis. TB is the world's second leading infectious killer, after HIV/AIDS, and it's claiming more victims than previously thought — 1.5 million last year alone — according to a report released today by the World Health Organization.

Quick Facts About Ebola

Oct 22, 2014

Basic information about Ebola isn't as clear as it probably could be.

The World Health Organization says that efforts are on track to distribute an experimental Ebola vaccine in West Africa in January.

Two potential vaccines are now being tested for safety in people, and Russia is developing another one. While quantities will be limited, scientists say even a relatively small supply of vaccine can help bring the epidemic under control.

Ebola has killed more than 1,300 people in Liberia's capital of Monrovia. But for the million-plus residents who aren't sick, life goes on even as their city is reshaped by death.

On market day, the downtown is teeming with shoppers and merchants and people just hanging out. It almost looks like commerce as usual until you notice all the "Ebola buckets," elevated plastic containers with spigots that deliver a chlorine solution for hand-washing.

Saturday, the 21st of September, is a day I will never forget in my life.

I was out working with MSF [Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders] as a health promotion officer in Foya, in the north of Liberia, visiting villages and telling people about Ebola: how to protect themselves and their families, what to do if they start to develop symptoms and making sure everyone has the MSF hotline number to call.

Later that night, my brother called me. "Your wife has died." I said, "What?" He said, "Bendu is dead."

This month, reports have come out that Laurie Holden, an actress from The Walking Dead TV show, had volunteered to be part of a sting in Colombia to entrap a local trafficker who sold girls as young as 12 into sex slavery. (Holden's job was to keep the girls distracted while the sting honchos were paying – and secretly filming — the trafficker.)

Public health student Robert Snyder says he's been back and forth between U.S. and Brazil at least six times. While some trips were for fun, others were to study how diseases affect some of the country's poorest communities.

Here's a question about the fine line between a prudent response and worrisome overkill: Is the sight of a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter hovering over a cruise ship to pick up a blood sample (which is to be tested for Ebola) a sight that should inspire feelings of reassurance, or a nagging sense that something is not quite right?

The question is still in the air after the weekend's effort to airlift a few milliliters of blood from a passenger who was on board what is now being called the Ebola Cruise.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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Flying into the epicenter of the Ebola epidemic is actually anti-climactic.

We landed on Friday night. And by Saturday morning, we realized that people around Monrovia, Liberia, are generally going about their business as usual — they're just washing their hands a lot more and trying not to touch each other.

The city of a million people is now reporting about 30 Ebola cases each day. On the surface, you really wouldn't know there was an epidemic of the world's scariest disease going on, except that every now and then an Ebola ambulance zooms past with its sirens on.

Night clubs have shut their doors. Soccer leagues have been suspended. And a strict curfew is keeping the streets empty at night.

But there's one place in Monrovia where people continue to gather despite the threat of Ebola: Sunday church service.

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Liberians Wonder If Duncan's Death Was A Result Of Racism

Oct 19, 2014

Moffie Kanneh is angry at the United States. When I meet the Liberian lawyer, he asks immediately where I am from. "Take this back to Washington," he says. "I am extremely furious."

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is a serious disease, but we can't give into hysteria or fear.

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Jusoisatu Jusu, 24, lives in a room in an abandoned hospital ward with her six-year-old son. They've survived Ebola. And now they're stuck.

"It's terrible," she says. "We have a lot of things to do, so we want to get back."

But they can't. They live in a town called Makeni, about 130 miles away. Public transportation around the country is limited or canceled because of the outbreak. And Jusu doesn't have the money to pay for a private ride.

By now, it's well known that there are a limited number of ways you can contract Ebola: from the blood, sweat, saliva or other bodily fluids of someone who already is ill with the disease.

There are many more ways you can't get Ebola: by meeting someone who has recently spent time in West Africa, for example, or sitting through a lecture about Ebola. You can't even get Ebola if someone with Ebola happens to be near you. To become infected, you'd have to be exposed directly to their bodily fluids.

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