Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the airways that carry oxygen in and out of the lungs. If a person has asthma, the inside of these airways is irritated and swollen. Asthma can cause shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and tightness in the chest. For some people, asthma symptoms only appear when they are exposed to something that irritates their breathing. Others have a kind of asthma that makes breathing difficult all of the time.
Asthma attacks have been linked to exercise, respiratory infections and exposure to environmental factors such as allergens, tobacco smoke, and indoor and outdoor air pollution. Asthma attacks can be reduced by taking medication and avoiding exposure to known triggers.
A number of studies have reported associations between air pollution exposures and asthma. For example, researchers have found an association between increased hospital admissions for asthma and particulate matter, an outdoor air pollutant.
"A lady had a snake in a bag. When somebody opened the bag, that made the lady die."
That’s the beginning of a story that Temba Morris often hears about the origins of Ebola. Morris runs a government health clinic in a remote village near Sierra Leone’s border with Guinea. According to the story, somebody else then looked inside the bag.
"And the one who opened the bag also died," is what Morris hears next. The snake escaped into the Sierra Leone bush.
So there you have it: Ebola is an evil snake that will kill you if you look at it.
The striking thing about this story, which is told and retold, is that Ebola really did come here from Guinea, and it currently is out of the bag.
But narratives like this are a dangerous distraction when health officials are dealing with a virus that spreads by human-to-human contact — and a lack of knowledge about how to stay safe.
In the remote northeastern corner of Sierra Leone, dozens of new Ebola cases are being reported each week. As the virus spreads, so do rumors about the terrifying disease.
The first is that Ebola doesn’t exist. Some say it’s a ploy to extract money from the international aid agencies. Others say the people aren’t dying from Ebola, they’re dying from a curse.
Then there are people who accept that it exists but have unorthodox ideas about how it got there.
Photo: Eerie protective suits and shiny body bags have fueled rumors about the origins of Ebola. Here, a burial team removes the body of a person suspected to have died from the virus in the village of Pendembu, Sierra Leone. (Tommy Trenchard for NPR)
The doctor leading the fight against the world’s deadliest Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone has contracted the virus, according to government officials.
Sheik Umar Khan has been admitted to a hospital in the Eastern province of Sierra Leone and is undergoing treatment.
The 39-year-old doctor is considered a national hero and is credited for treating scores of people suffering from the virus.
Health Minister Miatta Kargbo said she would “do anything and everything in my power to ensure he survives.”
Ebola is spread by a virus that is initially transmitted from wild animals; it has a high fatality rate and no cure. The virus kills up to 90 percent of those infected, however patients have a better chance of survival if the virus is detected early on.
According to the United Nations, 630 people have died since the virus was detected in Guinea in February and the virus has spread across borders and into several West African countries like Liberia. Symptoms of Ebola include high fever, vomiting, internal and external bleeding as well as diarrhea.
Khan seemed aware of the risks involved with dealing with Ebola, telling Reuters late last month “I am afraid for my life, I must say, because I cherish my life.”
He also said “Health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first port of call for somebody who is sickened by disease.”
(From PBS NewsHour)
In the past several months, Dr. Sheik Umar Khan has been a leader in the fight against the deadliest and largest Ebola outbreak in history.
Khan, 39, has treated over 100 Ebola patients in Sierra Leone. He’s a “national hero,” the country’s health minister said Tuesday.
Now the doctor has caught the deadly virus himself, Reuters reports. Khan is being treated at an isolation ward in Kailahun, run by Doctors Without Borders, the Sierra Leone government said in a statement.
Saidu Kanneh was given a hero’s welcome last week when he walked into a community meeting about Ebola in a tiny village of mud huts in the Kissi Kama region of Sierra Leone. Kanneh was diagnosed with Ebola early in July, was treated for 12 days in a Doctors Without Borders hospital and overcame the disease.
"God has made me as an example to survive and then get into the community to talk to my people," says Kanneh, who’s about 40 years old and runs a health clinic near the border with Guinea and Liberia. In treating Ebola cases, he too caught the disease — he thinks he may have been infected from contact with the bodily fluids that transmit the disease, perhaps because of a gap between his rubber gloves and his shirt sleeve.
Kanneh’s message is that not every patient dies.
And there are signs of hope: changes taking place that could be key to stopping the West African outbreak that began in March and has so far seen 1,032 cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with more than 600 deaths.
"There is no cure but that does not mean we can’t treat it with success," says Tim Jagatic,a Canadian physician at the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kailahun where Kanneh was treated — a series of tents set up in a field.
He says the human body can figure out how to combat it: “This is just a virus. It’s a virus like influenza. When we have influenza we know we stay home, take our fluids and let our bodies do the rest. That’s the same thing that we are doing here.
Top: Sylvester Jusu, a Red Cross volunteer, wears a suit and goggles to protect himself from contracting Ebola.
Bottom left: The burial team waits outside the house of someone who may have died of Ebola.
Bottom right: The team is sprayed with disinfectant after removing the body.
Photos by Tommy Trenchard for NPR
The AIDS community is in shock over the news that dozens of its members were aboard the Malaysia Airlines flight that was apparently shot down Thursday. The sorrow is particularly widespread over the death of Joep Lange, a Dutch researcher and advocate, who played a pivotal role in the AIDS movement for more than three decades.
"We’ve lost one of the giants in our field," says Dr.Richard Marlink, who heads the Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative. “We’ve lost a voice that I don’t think is easily replaced.”
Colleagues of Lange said his career embodied some of the most important shifts in the way scientists have approached the fight against HIV/AIDS: He gave patients and advocates more of a say in setting the research agenda, and he worked with governments and businesses to ensure that breakthroughs in treatment become available to even the poorest patients.
"[Lange’s] life’s work didn’t just reflect the changes in AIDS," Marlink says. "He led those changes."
Dr. Helene Gayle, who succeeded Lange for a two-year term as president of the International AIDS Society in 2004, agrees. “He could connect the dots between the different aspects of the HIV fight,” says Gayle, who is now president of the nonprofit CARE. “There are some people who are just clinicians, or some people who are just researchers, or just on the prevention and behaviorial side or the social side. He really understood it all. And he was truly a scientist with a heart.”
Lange, who was 61 and headed the department of global health at the University of Amsterdam, began his work on AIDS as a doctor and clinical researcher in the 1980s. His earliest contributions were scientific. He was the lead architect of many early trials of antiretroviral therapy and studied how to prevent HIV-positive pregnant women from transmitting the virus to their babies.
NPR’s Jason Beaubien is in Sierra Leone, covering the Ebola outbreak that began in March in Guinea and has spread to neighboring countries. When we spoke Friday, he had an inspirational story to share.
Between the plane shot down in Ukraine and the war in Gaza, this has been a sad week for the world. How are things in Sierra Leone?
I have some good news for you. Today I was at that corner of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where the first cases of Ebola [were reported]. I was following around MSF [Doctors Without Borders]. They’re training volunteers to explain to the community what causes Ebola, what the symptoms are, how to protect yourself.
We’re in this meeting with probably three dozen people, and this guy walks in. He is the former health officer from the region called Koindu, which sits right up against the [Guinea] border. And he got Ebola.
He had just gotten out of the treatment center this week. He walked in to this hero’s welcome; everyone started cheering and clapping. It was like he was taking the stage in The Price Is Right. He came running up to the front of the room, declaring that he’s free [of Ebola] and that he survived. It was this incredibly joyful moment.
What was his name, and how did he look?
He’s Saidu Kanneh, and he’s about 40 years old. He just had this spring in his step, this incredible smile across his face. He was full of energy. He was planning to spread the word that you can survive this. He refers to himself as “overhappy.”
Does he know how he was infected?
He was one of the first medical workers dealing with cases. He said he was working with this woman who had Ebola. He was wearing rubber gloves, but there was a gap between the gloves and his shirt. He believes that’s how it happened.
How long was he ill?
He spent 12 days in the treatment center in Kailahun and got out this week, completely cured. MSF people tell me no virus could be detected in him anymore.
Photo: Saidu Kanneh speaks to the community in Koindu, Sierra Leone, about surviving Ebola. He spent 12 days in a treatment center and was released this week. (Tommy Trenchard for NPR)
NPR’s Jason Beaubien is in Sierra Leone, covering the Ebola outbreak that began in March in Guinea and has spread to neighboring countries. When we spoke Thursday, he had just toured the treatment center built by Doctors Without Borders in the town of Kailahun. With 64 beds, it’s the largest Ebola isolation ward ever built. Currently there are 31 patients.
How’s it going?
Never a dull day here.
Can you describe the treatment center?
It’s basically a compound with a series of different tents. There are tents where people get suited up to go in. Another tent seems to be for storage, and one of the tents contains a lab. Then there’s a double fence about 3 1/2 feet high, made of orange plastic mesh. They designed the fence so people can see where the patients are, so it wouldn’t seem as if the patients are completely walled off.
Why a double fence?
So no one can get within 6 feet of someone who has Ebola. In case a patient from the isolation area reaches out or vomits, [Doctors Without Borders] wants to make sure there won’t be any accidental contamination.
How do the doctors record information on the patients?
Doctors go into the isolation area completely suited up, do their rounds and write down what’s happening with patients. Then they stand next to the fence and shout out to people on the other side of the fence [information about each patient]. Say, for patient 105, the doctor says, “diarrhea, vomiting.” Then the doctor’s notes [made inside the isolation area] are burned.
Where do they burn the notes?
They have a big pit in the back.
What else do they burn?
They burn everything. They say nothing comes out of isolation — although obviously they’re taking blood samples out. People come out. They strip off their protective gear, the Tyvek suits they put over their entire body and shoes.
Top: Construction workers repair the roof inside the isolation area at the Doctors Without Borders treatment center in Kailahun.
Bottom: All workers in the isolation area must wear a head-to-toe protective suit.
Photos by Tommy Trenchard for NPR