Written by Samantha Steyn WHAT IS EBOLA? Ebola Hemorrhogic Fever is a disease of humans and other primates caused by one of five different Ebola viruses. It was first identified in 1976 in Sudan and in Congo, largely along the Ebola River which is where it acquired its name. The virus is exceedingly infectious but not that contagious. This is due to the fact that it is not easily transmitted through the air, but instead through direct contact with blood and/or other bodily fluids of an infected animal/other human. Infection can also take place via direct contact with newly contaminated items/surfaces.
People with Ebola remain infectious as long as their blood and bodily fluids contain the virus which can be for several weeks after recovery. Patients are not, however, infectious until they develop the symptoms known to the virus. Ebola is not infectious if someone is asymptomatic or once someone has already been infected and has recovered from the disease. Interestingly enough, researchers have found that the animal most responsible for being a carrier of the virus is the African Fruit Bat. Despite being the main carrier, the Bat does not get infected with the disease. Identifying Ebola can be difficult as the symptoms can be confused with those of other infectious diseases, such as: malaria, typhoid fever and meningitis.
The signs and symptoms of someone having contracted Ebola are known to appear within 2-21 days after receiving the virus. These may include: • Fever • Sore throat • Muscle pain • Headaches • Vomiting • Diarrhea • Rash • Decreased function of liver &/or kidneys • Internal & external bleeding Additional symptoms can include: weakness, aches, stomach pain, red eyes, chest pain, and difficulty breathing/swallowing. The Ebola virus has been found to be associated with a high risk of death, with an approximate 50% chance of fatality within 2 weeks of being diagnosed. As of yet, treatment options are limited and no definite cure has been discovered. Despite this, the current treatment plans include: • Oral rehydration therapy (drinking slightly sweetened and salty water) • Intravenous fluid therapy • Treating the symptoms • Vaccines.
THE CURRENT EPIDEMIC The current Ebola epidemic, taking place in West Africa, has affected more people and consumed more lives than all the other outbreaks combined. It is, to date, the largest Ebola outbreak ever recorded. It is believed to have been caused by the death of a two year old child, from Guniea, who contracted the virus in December 2013. By March 2014, the Ebola epidemic was in full swing in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. By August 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it an international health emergency. At this stage, the outbreak had already spread to Nigeria and Senegal and the first case was recorded in the USA on the 30 September. The patient, in question, passed away 8 days later. On the 23 October, reported cases of Ebola in Mali were confirmed and the outbreak in Sierra Leone, which was thought to have been taken under control, erupted once more. By the 29 October 2014, 13 567 cases of Ebola had been reported, worldwide, with approximately 4960 of these ending in fatality.
According to WHO, however, these figures are an immense underestimation of the true nature of the outbreak. Other than obtaining the lives of thousands of citizens, the African countries most severely affected by the Ebola virus are known to have very poor health systems and are unable to effectively manage the outbreak. Furthermore, the Financial Times was reported saying that “the economic impact [of Ebola] could kill more people than the virus itself”. In order to control an outbreak of this magnitude, the following is required: co-ordinated medical services and community engagement. While Doctors Without Borders have been fundamentally involved in attempting to achieve the co-ordinated medical services aspect, the community engagement remains to be a struggle, primarily taken on by WHO. WHAT CAN YOU DO? As an outsider looking in, this epidemic can appear too large for any individual to try to make a visible difference. Yet, the sooner we all get involved, the sooner the Ebola virus can be contained. At this stage, the main need is for awareness to be made, particularly with regards to the risk factors and protective measures to be taken when confronting the disease head-on. People need to know how the Ebola virus can spread. The three major means of transmission include:
1. Wildlife-to-human transmission
2. Human-to-human transmission
3. Surface/Item-to-human transmission
For those brave enough to get intimately involved in trying to control the Ebola outbreak, the following measures need to be taken: • Basic hand hygiene • Respiratory hygiene • Personal protective equipment • Safe injection practices • Safe burial practices On August 25, more than 216 healthcare workers were recorded having died in an effort to help others suffering from Ebola. WE NEED TO FIGHT Although many are ignorant of the true nature of Ebola, the extent to which the epidemic has risen results in no reason/excuse to remain oblivious. Something needs to be done. Despite current efforts, the Ebola virus continues to reign with no possibility of defeat in sight. Let’s destroy the ignorance. Let’s make the world aware. Let’s initiate a victory over this deadly disease!
To read up more about the current Ebola epidemic, visit http://www.news24.com/Tags/Topics/ebola.