Dr. Martin Salia, who contracted Ebola while working with patients in Sierra Leone, died on Monday after receiving treatment in a Nebraska hospital. Salia is the second person to die from Ebola on U.S. soil, after a Liberian man named Thomas Duncan passed away in Dallas at the beginning of October.
Salia was in critical condition when he arrived for treatment in the United States this weekend. He was already suffering from kidney and respiratory failure at that point. As the Washington Post reports, his symptoms were advanced because he had been infected with Ebola for over a week but didn’t initially realize he had the virus. The first test Salia took came back with a false negative.
Early detection is critical to treating Ebola. If patients are diagnosed early and drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration, they have a much better chance of surviving.
That’s one of the primary reasons why the survival rate for the deadly virus is so much higher here in United States than it is in Western Africa. Every single person who contracted Ebola on U.S. soil has completely recovered. Plus, Dr. Craig Spencer, the health worker who contracted Ebola while volunteering in Sierra Leone, was discharged from the hospital last week. Spencer first started displaying symptoms in New York City, so he was able to receive immediate treatment.
CREDIT: New York Times
The two men who have died from Ebola in this country, on the other hand, were in more advanced stages of infection before they started receiving medical care. Doctors say that the odds were stacked against Duncan when he showed up at Texas Presbyterian Hospital last month, since he had been experiencing symptoms for several days at that point and U.S. doctors weren’t fully aware of his medical history. And Salia’s health rapidly deteriorated after his initial Ebola test came back negative and his colleagues assumed he didn’t have the virus.
In Western Africa, where the average mortality rate for Ebola is hovering around 50 percent — but can reach up to up to 70 percent in certain regions — most people aren’t benefiting from the kind of close monitoring that happens here in the U.S. They’re delaying seeking care, either because they mistrust the local health clinics or because there are shortages of beds and staff.
“My sense is that a lot of people in West Africa have been hesitant to come to Ebola treatment units. They come when they are desperate, already dying,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, recently told Vox. That means it’s too late to help many of them, even before you take into account the drastic differences in the health resources available in Liberia compared to in the United States.
Despite the fact that Americans are incredibly likely to survive if they contract Ebola here, the virus still remains at the top of some people’s list of concerns. According to a new Gallup survey released this week, about one in six Americans rate Ebola as the country’s top health concern. More people are worried about Ebola than they are about obesity, cancer, or heart disease — even though those are the health issues that are actually most likely to kill Americans.