Every few years, a new pandemic hits the globe and sends shivers down everyone’s spines. The latest one making headlines is the Ebola virus, that has infected and killed thousands of people in 5 West African countries, since the latest outbreak began in March 2014. So what is this disease that scientists have yet to find a cure for, and how do people catch it? Background & History The Ebola virus causes a serious and severe illness which is often deadly if untreated. It was first appeared in 1976 in 2 simultaneous outbreaks.
The first 1 was recorded in 1976 in Yambuku, a small village in Congo near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name. And the Yambuku hospital spreads the virus quickly due to unhealthy conditions and unsterilized needles. Later in the same year another outbreak of the Ebola occurred in Sudan. Together, over 500 cases were reported. On August 8, the WHO Director-General declared this outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. This disease is estimated to have claimed the lives of over 1600 people between 1976 and 2012.
The current outbreak in West Africa, (first cases notified in March 2014), is the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since it was first discovered. It has also spread between countries starting in Guinea then spreading across land borders to Sierra Leone and Liberia, by air to Nigeria, and by land to Senegal. The most severely affected countries have very weak health systems, lacking human and infrastructural resources, having only recently emerged from long periods of conflict and instability.
Infection & transmission In Africa, fruit bats are believed to be the natural hosts of Ebola virus. The virus is transmitted from wildlife to people through close contact with infected fruit bats, or through intermediate hosts, such as monkeys, pigs, or gorillas that have themselves become infected through contact with bats. People may then become infected through contact with infected animals, either in the process of slaughtering or through consumption of blood, milk, or raw or undercooked meat.
Spread can be accomplished either by person to person transmission, needle transmission or through sexual contact. – Person to person transmission occurs when people have direct contact with Ebola patients and do not have suitable protection. Family members and doctors usually obtain it from this type of transmission. – Needle transmission occurs when needles, which have been used on Ebola patients, are reused. – A lucky person who has recovered from the Ebola virus can also infect another person through sexual contact.
This is because the person may still carry the virus in his/her genital. – Another method of transmission is airborne transmission. This type is not proven 100% although there have been several experiments done to prove that this type of transmission is highly possible. Signs & Symptoms The time between the invasion of Ebola and the appearance of its symptoms (incubation period) is 2-21 days. First symptoms are the sudden onset of fever & headaches, joint & muscle pain, weakness.
This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, limited kidney and liver function, internal and external bleeding. People remain infectious as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus, a period of 61 days after onset of illness. Treatment No treatment, no vaccine, or antiviral therapy exists. Roughly 90% of all Ebola’s victims die. Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care and hope that they can be one of the fortunate 10% who survive. Control of the Outbreak To control an outbreak of Ebola, you must prevent further spread of the virus.
The CDC (Center for Disease and Control) usually sends a team of medical scientists to the area of the outbreak where they provide advice and assistance to prevent additional cases. 1) All hospital personnel in contact with the patient must wear protective gear such as gowns, masks, gloves, and goggles. 2) Visitors are not allowed. 3) Disposable materials and wastes are removed or burned after use. 4) Reusable materials, such as needles are sterilized. 5) All surfaces are cleaned with sanitizing solution. 6) Fatal cases are buried or burned.
Given that scientists have still not been able to come up with an effective vaccination, the only thing the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) can do, is work with the governments of the affected countries and try to cut off the spread of the epidemic by properly isolating patients, providing healthcare workers with the right protective gear and encouraging the locals to practice better sanitation habits. Additionally, they are trying to educate residents about the dangers of consuming wild animal meat.
Travel to and from the affected countries is also being carefully monitored. Hopefully, all these measures will help bring control the outbreak and prevent the virus from spreading further.