Ebola Virus Disease is a severe, often fatal illness in humans (non-human ) primates like monkeys, gorillas and Chimpanzees. It was formerly known as Ebola Haemorrhagic fever. EVD, as we will refer to it in this write up can have up to a case fatality of 90% when there is an outbreak, which can explain the media frenzy and state of emergency globally and in affected areas especially.
It is caused by infection with a virus of the Filorividae Family; symptoms can start abruptly when one is infected by the virus. Actually, this is not the first outbreak of Ebola. The first species was discovered in the (now) Democratic Republic of Congo, near the Ebola River in 1976. Another outbreak in 1995 claimed 254 lives out of over 300 infected patients in DRC
There have been sporadic outbreaks since then, so some of the questions to be asked are why this particular outbreak is generating so much buzz and prompt action and response from outside Africa.
The “natural reservoir” is unknown, but the general belief based on available evidence is that the virus is ‘Zoonotic’ (borne by animals) and the most likely reservoirs are Bats. The bats can sometimes infect other animals hunted for bush meat and consequently the virus is transmitted to humans.
Signs and Symptoms
- Sudden onset of fever(hence the frenzy about taking passenger’s temperature at Airports)
- Muscle pain
- Diarrhoea and Vomiting
The whole body and immune system is consequently attacked and overwhelmed by the virus.
The time between infection and symptom manifesting can range between two days to three weeks and the virus is spread through ‘Direct’ contact the blood, organs or bodily fluid of those infected. One of the reasons responsible for the widespread transmission this time around is International travel and Migration.
Statistics and Facts about Ebola Virus
There has been so much hype about this deadly disease; some people even come up with conspiracy theories and stories. There was a report of widespread of Ebola in certain part of Nigeria about an unknown patient who travelled there and the doctor that willingly risked his life!
It is therefore vital that everyone, especially public at large in affected Countries are educated about the virus, its spread, containment and awareness of the facts.
Though the symptoms are flu-like, unlike Flu the virus is not (airborne) spread through the air, so the real risk in direct contact.
According to statistics released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) who has declared the spread of the virus an International health emergency; there have been 932 deaths as at August this year. That is a huge mortality considering the outbreak started in February spreading across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, until an infected patient (who later died) travelled to Nigeria, thereby infecting some of the frontline healthcare practitioners that treated him resulting in their death.
As late as 2012, there was an outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo resulting in 29 deaths. Which reminds me of a question asked by someone on Social media recently, wondering if the prompt response will be this high if the virus was contained in the villages and rural areas.
Though there is no cure for Ebola, vaccines and treatment are in development Rehydration and good nutritional support are thought to help.
It is not possible to test someone for the virus until onset of symptoms which can be up to 21days and a person can be infectious up to 8weeks after becoming ill.
Some cultural practices in Africa, during burial for instance have been identified as one of the reasons for widespread; what is paramount though is the state of Health care provision in Africa especially in the area of infection prevention and control. I have written about this several times on this blog and will be addressing it fully in Part two.
In the meantime, simple hand washing (done correctly),provision and proper adorning of protective clothing like gloves(changed regularly),masks with visor, aprons and so on for frontline practitioners will make a difference in preventing the spread of any infection. Of course, there is the issue of safe Disposal.
One thing is certain though; time is of essence globally to find a cure, treatment and or immunization before the next outbreak and in Africa, our Leaders need to be Proactive rather than Reactive regarding the healthcare system.