I'm Ben C. Solomon, an International Video Journalist for The New York Times currently in Sierra Leone.

I spent the past week and a half in many of the Ebola hot spots (Kenema, Kailahun and the surrounding villages) making video documentaries for www.nytimes.com/video/

I've worked in Sierra Leone a lot over the past few years and am grateful to be reporting on these tough times.

Happy to field any questions about the situation and about the work being done to contain it.

PLEASE Consider donating to MSF (Doctors Without Borders) who are working tremendously hard here to stop the spread and surely saving thousands of lives. msf.me/1mGqmmK

Check out my dispatches here: A Village Devastated by Ebola http://www.nytimes.com/video/world/africa/100000003050318/a-village-devastated-by-ebola.html

Inside Hospital’s Ebola Battle http://www.nytimes.com/video/world/africa/100000003045620/ebola-ravages-hospital-and-dashes-hope.html

edit: Thanks for the great questions! I'm head back out east today and will have limited internet access. Will try to check up on any new questions and respond when I can.

My Proof: photo: http://imgur.com/0Rzpw5H tweet: https://twitter.com/bcsolomon/status/499256466059317248

Comments: 93 • Responses: 34  • Date: 

karmanaut14 karma

What general steps are you taking to ensure that you don't contract ebola?

bcsolomon17 karma

Keeping the virus away is all about being extremely vigilant. It can only be contracted through direct exposure to mucus membranes. Your mouth, your eyes, open wounds. In that sense, it's all about managing what you touch. Chlorine instantly kills the virus, so any thing you touch, you immediately put chlorine on. You don't shake hands, you wash your feet when you come in and out of rooms. We keep a bottle of chlorine on us at all times and are constantly washing. We probably wash our hands and shoes about 50 times a day.

Carukia-barnesi3 karma

How close have you gotten to it?

Have you come in direct contact with anyone who has it?

bcsolomon9 karma

It's impossible to say how close I've come.

Watch the report below to get a sense of the scenario: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBmvb1h9dk8

Hello-Universe1 karma

how close have you knowingly come I think is the question.

bcsolomon2 karma

Inside some hospital wards where many Ebola patients have come and gone, it's clear that the virus is very much present. However I've taken the right safety measures to present the virus from infecting me.

moron229 karma

What do you think of other news sources exaggerating the virus outbreak in the US?

bcsolomon15 karma

I think Ebola is a very serious virus and deserves extreme concern and caution. However, the problems of the outbreak here are tied to a lack of education and trust. People don't trust the foreign doctors and some have not been taught how to deal with it better. In tiny villages, we were even hearing rumors about people receiving disinfectant like chlorine and purell as aid and drinking it as some sort of potion.

In the US, I think any Ebola contamination would be quarantined and stopped very quickly. The challenges in rural Africa are much more systemic.

blondie6256 karma

What do you think about using experimental drugs in this situation? Obviously, we want to help as many people as possible, but is there a danger that we develop a good scientific base for these drugs' use?

bcsolomon9 karma

If it was me, I'd want the drug. I appreciate the need for strict regulations, but when a patient is very likely to die, it'd be hard to argue with taking a chance.

Carukia-barnesi3 karma

What experimental drugs?

bcsolomon7 karma

The experimental drug is called Zmapp. Read more here: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/guinea/qa-experimental-treatments.html

marktwenty5 karma

What is the biggest misconception about Ebola that exists and is still repeated? (both locally and in global media)

bcsolomon14 karma

Locally: The belief that foreign health workers are trying to spread the disease.

In some of the global media: That 90% of those who get Ebola will die. In the current outbreak, almost half of those that contract Ebola survive.

ariana_g_tobin3 karma

What sorts of questions have people in Sierra Leone been asking you? Have you also been considered suspect?

bcsolomon5 karma

Some people are nervous that I've been to the more dangerous places, but no one is dismissive or angry. Most people are just curious.

cathedrameregulaemea2 karma

But isn't that a legitimate concern? By your own admission, you've been to some of the more dangerous places. For that matter, you needn't be carrying the virus inside you either. A backpack placed on the surface of a hospital ward, that you then carry with you over an 8 hour bus ride in a climate that's humid enough to ensure that the virus has enough humidity to prevent itself from drying out. I'm guessing you don't wait 21 days in a sterile/differentially quarantined environment before moving from place to place. So, again, isn't that a legitimate concern?

I understand that a lot of epidemiology is based on probability, and the scenario I've stated is improbable... but I'd be uneasy saying that there was NO chance that you were carrying the virus.

Of course, I guess there's a very real trade-off to make, since yours (and others' reportage) is crucial in first soliciting, and then optimally directing foreign aid.

Are you mentally prepared though? For the unfortunate possibility of someone's infection being traced back to you as an unwitting vector, or of you getting infected yourself?

bcsolomon3 karma

It's a very big concern. We've taken every step possible to be as cautious and defensive against the virus. That includes using chlorine on our car, clothes, equipment and bodies multiple times a day. That's the most we can hope to do.

As for post quarantine, I plan on taking some time away from assignments and family for a period of time so as not to spread the disease.

Desertboot3 karma

Hey Ben, I'm missing you in Dallas. We're all proud of you. I hope you're staying safe.

When you travel, do you feel a natural "duration" for your stay in a certain place, or is it all just work? How long do you see yourself staying in Sierra Leone right now?

bcsolomon2 karma

There's no set duration. I'll stick around here as long as I can do new and interesting reporting for people to understand the situation. I'm not sure when I'll leave Sierra Leone.

connortryan3 karma

Ben - Was amazed by your recent video. How willing were people in the village willing to talk to you on camera? How did you approach them during such a sensitive time?

bcsolomon4 karma

People in Sierra Leone are incredibly kind and open. Even in tough times, the people we've encountered have been more than happy to share their story.

Given the stigma associated with Ebola, one must be sensitive when shooting patients. Just like anywhere else in the world, it's important to ask for permission before filming anyone.

connortryan1 karma

Are there many other journalists where you are? Do you stick together?

bcsolomon2 karma

There aren't too many journalists working here. Many media companies seem nervous to send people. For the ones that are, we help each other as much as possible.

Uh_cakeplease3 karma

What are your predictions, based on your knowledge, of how this disease will spread to other countries?

bcsolomon3 karma

The incubation period for the Ebola virus is 21 days. You can start showing symptoms anytime between 2 and 21 days. It's completely possible that someone not showing could fly to another country and then start showing symptoms. But it would be very unlikely to spread in a country with more developed health care and better public awareness.

SirThrocken3 karma

What are your thoughts on the food at the 14th floor cafeteria?

bcsolomon4 karma

Big fan of the sushi.

Uh_cakeplease2 karma

What actually happens to the patients before death? I've read about bleeding eyes and whatnot, but it just seems very vague to me.

bcsolomon3 karma

It varies a lot. It's generally a failure of organs and hemorrhaging, both internal, and in the case of bleeding eyes, external. I'm not a medical expert and as the wards where people with late stages of sickness are heavily quarantined, I haven't many seen deadly cases.

Midva2 karma

Are you afraid of contracting the disease? Have you feel any fear for your safety when reporting on a story?

bcsolomon3 karma

Of course. Ebola has a powerful psychological effect. But we're taking necessary the steps to protect ourselves.

joycemonsees2 karma

My name is Joyce Monsees. I am a global disaster information specialist with the Standby Task Force. We collect data during a crisis to assist the agencies working at the site.

We are currently assisting NetHope by collecting information on the West Africa Ebola Outbreak. NetHope needs the locations of cemeteries and ad hoc burial sites of ebola victims. We hope to help stop the spread of the disease by locating the decaying bodies before fluids can enter water systems or infect those living nearby.

Do you have any knowledge of any of these sites? We can find the grid coordinates and upload them to a map if we know the specific locations. If you have no information, can you recommend another person who may help us?

Thank you very much.

bcsolomon1 karma

I would get in touch with MSF (Doctors Without Borders) who have the most comprehensive data on this. Not sure if they;d be willing to share, but they'd be the ones you'd want to talk to.

kirbyfood2 karma

I know you've done a lot of work in areas undergoing severe conflict, how often do you feel unsafe (if ever)? How do you feel you are received by the people you photograph in those areas?

bcsolomon2 karma

Working in dangerous places is all about managing the odds. If you do all the prior planning and take all the precautionary steps to work safely, you have a lot better odds of being Ok. I try to do all the homework I can before going on a dangerous assignment.

_curiousjorge2 karma

Why did it take so long for WHO and other international organizations to respond on the ground? From what I know, Doctors Without Borders has been there for a while, but said in late June they were stretched to the breaking point and up until then were the only group on the ground. I keep wondering if the African Union or UN responded immediately (not just with money), the outbreak would not have been nearly as big. Please correct any wrong info.

Thanks and stay safe.

bcsolomon5 karma

Doctors Without Borders has been there from the very start. I can't stress how hard they are working to help contain this. They're a fantastic presence here.

For WHO it's a lot more complicated. WHO has a permanent presence in Freetown, but no one expected for this outbreak to spread so quickly. There has been no precedent. So in part, they were caught off guard.

petepayless2 karma

Are you working with handlers in Sierra Leone who you knew previous to the outbreak? Have you noticed, either from them or other non-health professionals you've had continuing contact with, noticeable changes in their understanding of Ebola? (ex. you've seen how they've come to trust information from medical professionals, or developed doubts about that information, or something entirely different)

bcsolomon3 karma

People from aid agencies openly acknowledge that there's a learning curve. It took a while to fully appreciate the speed with which it would spread, but now a big portion of the population is very concerned.

Oh_no_hes_a_doctor2 karma

I listened to an interesting NPR piece about a lot of people don't believe Ebola exists and it's just a really bad case of good poisoning/some other known virus killing people. Since you've been in SL covering the epidemic, have you experienced a lot of this "denial"? If so, why do you think people don't believe Ebola exists?

bcsolomon4 karma

Yeah, there is denial.

This area has experienced decades of corrupt governments, war and misinformation. There is a natural distrust of the government and there is little faith in Sierra Leone's already poor health care system.

welcome2hogwarts2 karma

In talking with co-workers it seems that their general perception is that an outbreak in a first world country would be unlikely due to the fact that we are so much more educated about it. While I agree with this to some extent (in that it would be less likely to spread as quickly), I wouldn't personally wouldn't say that it would be "unlikely." Either way my question for you is, how much has lack of education about the disease played a part in it's rapid spread, or do you think the education factor is relatively unimportant due to the longer incubation period of ebola, and by the time one starts showing symptoms he/she has already infected more?

bcsolomon7 karma

Lack of education is a key problem. The incubation period is an important problem in aiding the spread of the disease to other countries. However once its there, places with high levels of education would easily contain it.

Here in West Africa, the lack of understanding of the disease make it much harder to contain.

TheSollymonster1 karma

Given that the biggest issue in the spread of this disease is a lack of education and a distrust of foreign doctors - what future steps could be taken to prevent such an outbreak from reoccurring (especially considering the lacking educational infrastructure)?

bcsolomon3 karma

Hopefully this current outbreak has increased global awareness about the disease. It's hard to say how it could be stopped in the future.

highvelocitypeanut1 karma

If you are exposed will you be willing to be given untested drugs?

bcsolomon6 karma

For me, if I thought I was going to die I'd do everything I can to fight. So yes.

4a4a1 karma

Is there a sense in Sierra Leone that that the worst of it is over? Or are people still bracing for more?

bcsolomon6 karma

I definitely wouldn't say the worst is over. Figures continue to climb and aid agencies are having a tough time keeping up.

However, people are starting to accept the messages that Ebola is real and taking the measures to prevent catching it.

joetromboni1 karma

Do you have ebola? And if you did get it would you fly back to America?

bcsolomon2 karma

If I started showing symptoms, I'd likely be medically evacuated to a country with more expertise and better facilities for dealing with hemorrhagic fevers.

Qklese1 karma

How have the locals been reacting to the foreign aid?

bcsolomon3 karma

It's hard to say for everyone, but people are very appreciative of the help. Organizations like Doctors Without Borders are tremendously tough and hard working. They stay up day and night to treat patients and track the spread. Most people appreciate that.

quigonjinn_n_tonic1 karma

Thanks for doing this, you have a unique perspective that we can all learn a lot from! What do you think of the new checkpoint system that's been set up to keep infected people contained? Seems to be a bit inhumane from an outsider's view...

bcsolomon2 karma

It's an important step in that the Sierra Leonean government is taking the outbreak a lot more seriously and trying to take action to stop it. But often these checkpoints can prevent people from moving between villages and anger communities. It's hard to say what effect it is having so far.


How has your journey effected your mental health?

bcsolomon2 karma

It's a jarring experience to cover such a hidden, deadly virus. I just try to be as safe as possible and focus on my work.

landmule1 karma

I know that Ebola affects the entire body but I've never encountered a good - general - description of the virus. What are the symptoms? Does it go away or does it go dormant - like malaria? What is Ebola?

bcsolomon2 karma

I'm not a medical expert, so I'll just try to assemble all of the info I've gathered:

The first symptoms of Ebola are very similar to the flu or Malaria. Fever, weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. As it develops, more serious problems begin. Impaired kidney and liver function. In some cases, both internal and external bleeding. Each case is different. Incubation period from when you are infected to when you start showing symptoms is two to 21 days. Doctors consider the first seven to 10 days after infection the peak of the illness.

If a person is lucky enough, symptoms will start to fade. The body will begins to produce antibodies to fight off the infection. This is the first step of recovering from the virus.

Some studies have shown that the virus can lay dormant for up to 3 months in breast milk and semen.

YouthInRevolt1 karma

Just wanted to say that you're an awesome human for risking your own safety to cover and raise awareness about this terrible disease. How's the food in Sierra Leone?

bcsolomon2 karma

Thanks a lot. Food is mostly chicken.

mayathebot1 karma

Can you talk a little bit about what the standard drugs that are being given are and what the experimental drugs are/how prevalent the experimental drugs are? Also about what kind of non-medecine you hear about people taking like swallowing chlorine?

bcsolomon3 karma

Standard treatment involves addressing the symptoms. Dehydration and fever are the most common. Normal treatments like intravenous drips and paracetamol are the first line of attack.

The experimental drug, called ZMapp is very rare. Only 3 people have taken it so far.

Macdoco1 karma

I'm a little late to the party, but hopefully you can answer this. I'm currently reading "The Hot Zone" by Richard Preston. Now, I know it was written back in the mid 90's so I'm curious to how much of the information has changed since then. There are large sections of the book that deal with the possibility of Ebola being an airborne virus, that can be transferred from one animal to another without contact. I'm assuming this belief has changed. Also, the book mentions that the virus can survive on a plane for 24 hours without any hosts on board. Am I reading something factual? or has this become more of a an entertaining thriller to read that isn't quite factually acurate? Thanks Ben!

bcsolomon2 karma

Sorry for my late reply. I haven't read "The Hot Zone" yet, but sure hope too.

From what I'm told, I know that there are 5 different types of Ebola strands all varying in structure and danger. As for it being airborne or not, I haven't heard about anything of the sort here. As I'm not a doctor, I can't be sure of how real that could be in other places.

Full_Sails0 karma

You videos from West Africa look great. Any chance you can give us a run down of your gear list?

bcsolomon2 karma

Very basic. 5D mark III with assorted small kit. E-mail me at [email protected] and I'll send the fuller list.