Public panic about a potential Ebola outbreak in the U.S. — largely stoked by unscientific fearmongering from public figures — has led to an increasing number of overreactions, ranging from school cancellations to outward hostility toward people of West African origin. Amid the hysteria, however, it can be easy to miss any small steps of progress we’re making to contain the global outbreak. Here are four pieces of good news that may have gotten lost amid the ominous headlines about the virus:
1. Nigeria and Senegal have both officially defeated Ebola.
On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Nigeria free of Ebola, now that the country has gone more than 40 days without reporting any new cases of the deadly virus. “This is a spectacular success story,” WHO spokesperson Rui Gama Vaz said at a news conference in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja. “It shows that Ebola can be contained.”
Nigeria’s existing health resources, which were initially put in place to help combat polio, ensured that the country could effectively respond to the global health threat that’s ravaging several less economically stable Western African nations. Over the past several months, health officials have been tracking nearly 900 Nigerians who may have come into contact with an Ebola-infected man from Liberia before he collapsed and died in an airport in July. Experts here at home have pointed to Nigeria as proof that the virus can be stopped in areas with adequate health care infrastructures.
The news about Nigeria comes just a few days after the WHO declared Senegal to be free of Ebola. Senegal only had one case of the virus within its borders — traced back to an infected man who had traveled there from Guinea — and moved quickly to test and track the other people who may have been exposed to that individual. “Senegal’s response is a good example of what to do when faced with an imported case of Ebola,” WHO officials noted, which is currently what countries in Europe and North America are dealing with.
2. Dozens of people in Texas just learned they’re no longer at risk for contracting Ebola.
This weekend, the New York Times reported that “at least one chapter of the Ebola saga” has approached a close. That’s because Sunday marked the end of the 21-day monitoring period for nearly all of the people in Texas who came into contact with Thomas Duncan, the Liberian man who recently died from Ebola in a Dallas hospital. None of them have gotten the virus, so the threat of transmission from Duncan has now officially passed.
Texas authorities say that 43 people have been cleared of Ebola and can now return home, concluding their period of isolation. That includes the family members who came into close contact with Duncan, who have been under a legally-enforced quarantine for the past three weeks. “We are so happy this is coming to an end, and we are so grateful that none of us has shown any sign of illness,” Louise Troh, Duncan’s fiancée, said in a statement this weekend.
Other people, including the health workers who treated Duncan and the passengers who traveled on the same plane as one of the hospital employees who contracted the virus last week, continue to be monitored for potential symptoms. But the positive news from the first round of isolation is encouraging. “It’s a significant hurdle for us to get over,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said. “It brings a little bounce in our step, because we know the science is working.”
3. The first person to contract Ebola outside of Africa has survived the virus.
Also on Sunday, the Spanish government announced that a health worker who contracted Ebola from sick patients has been cleared of the virus after testing negative for the third time. Teresa Romero was hospitalized for Ebola on October 6 after caring for missionaries who had contracted Ebola abroad; at that time, she was the first person to contract Ebola outside of Africa, leading to significant alarm about the potential spread of the disease.
Romero benefited from sophisticated medical care. She received an IV drip with the antibodies of an Ebola survivor, a treatment that may help some victims’ bodies fight off the disease. She also received an experimental drug, ZMapp, that has come into high demand over the past several weeks.
Fifteen people who came into contact with Romero before she was hospitalized are still being monitored, although none of them have shown symptoms so far.
4. The health worker on the so-called “Ebola cruise” has tested negative for the virus.
Last week, there were some panicked headlines about the fact that one of the hospital workers who treated Duncan was on a cruise ship bound for the Caribbean. The employee, who had handled a specimen from the Ebola-stricken patient, said she left for the vacation before she was aware she was supposed to isolate herself. Passengers on that ship said there was “utter panic” on board, and some media outlets began referring to it as an “Ebola cruise.”
But there’s no reason to worry. The health worker and her husband were isolated on board the ship, and the Coast Guard came to collect a blood sample to test for Ebola. On Sunday, health officials confirmed that the test came back negative. Everyone aboard the ship was allowed to disembark in Galveston, Texas, where health officials are assuring residents “there is no evidence of a public health threat.”
Since Belize and Mexico both turned the ship away, it cut the trip short and headed back to Texas. According to the Chicago Tribune, the other passengers on board were given a $200 credit and a coupon for half off a future cruise.
While Europe and the U.S. can celebrate some small pieces of good news about Ebola, however, the epidemic continues to ravage countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone, where more than 4,000 people have died so far. Despite the fears about Ebola reaching the borders of developed nations, international assistance to the impoverished West African region has been slow to come. In an impassioned “letter to the world” broadcast on BBC on Sunday, Liberia’s president warned that West Africa is at risk of losing an entire generation to the disease.